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President Biden Will Revisit Trump Rules on Campus Sexual Assault

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WASHINGTON — President Biden on Monday directed the Education Department to conduct an expansive review of all policies on sex and gender discrimination and violence in schools, effectively beginning his promised effort to dismantle Trump-era rules on sexual misconduct that afforded greater protections to students accused of assault.

With two executive orders — one ordering the new education secretary to review those policies, and the other establishing a gender-focused White House policy council — Mr. Biden, an author of the Violence Against Women Act, waded into an area that has been important to him but has been politically charged for more than a decade.

The Obama administration issued guidance to schools, colleges and universities that critics in and out of academia said leaned too heavily toward accusers and offered scant protections or due process for students and faculty accused of sexual harassment, assault or other misconduct. The Trump administration swept those aside and delivered the first-ever regulations on sexual misconduct, which many saw as swinging too far the other way, offering the accused too much power through guaranteed courtlike tribunals and cross-examination of accusers.

It is unclear whether Mr. Biden’s review of all policies under Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools, will return the rules to the Obama administration’s approach or find some middle ground that incorporates lessons from the last two administrations. When asked what direction Mr. Biden might take, a White House official said on Monday that the executive order “speaks for itself.”

“We’re looking for a process that does not turn us into courts, that allows us to treat both sides fairly and equally, and does not attempt to micromanage campus proceedings,” said Terry W. Hartle, a senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents 1,700 college and university presidents and executives in higher education.

However the process proceeds, it is sure to illustrate just how much Title IX has become a political cudgel in the culture wars over sex, gender and education.

As vice president, Mr. Biden was integral to President Barack Obama’s efforts to overhaul Title IX, in part by issuing guidance that led to aggressive investigations of schools that had mishandled sexual assault complaints and threatened them with funding cuts. Rules proposed in 2018 by Betsy DeVos, the education secretary under President Donald J. Trump, wiped those out and cemented procedures that bolstered the due process rights of accused students.

Because Ms. DeVos went through the formal regulatory process with a draft rule, comment period and final rule, her successor, Miguel A. Cardona, must go through another regulatory procedure to replace the Trump rule with his own, which will take a year or more.

The Trump administration’s rules have been in effect since August, and lawsuits that sought to overturn them — including one to delay them as colleges grappled with the coronavirus pandemic — have failed.

“It’s not to say that they couldn’t loosen some of the Trump-era rules,” R. Shep Melnick, a politics professor at Boston College and the author of “The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education,” said in an interview. “But if they try to go back to the Obama-era rules, I’m pretty sure that they would lose in court.”

Jennifer Klein, who will lead the re-established White House Gender Policy Council with Julissa Reynoso, the chief of staff to Jill Biden, the first lady, told reporters on Monday that “everybody involved” in a sexual complaint, “accused and accuser,” was entitled to due process.

“The policy of this administration is that every individual, every student, is entitled to a free — a fair education free of sexual violence, and that people — all involved — have access to a fair process,” said Ms. Klein, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was the first lady.

Victims’ rights groups hailed the Obama-era rules for reversing longstanding practices on college campuses of sweeping sexual assault claims under the rug, and for extending wide-ranging protections from obstacles that had long stymied reporting of sexual assault. The guidance instituted a broad definition for what qualified as sexual harassment, discouraged cross-examination and required schools to use the lowest evidentiary standard in adjudicating claims.

The guidance, however, was also criticized by school administrators and due-process activists, who said it amounted to an illegal edict that incentivized schools to often err on the side of complainants. Hundreds of federal and state lawsuits have been filed by students accused of sexual misconduct since 2011, when the Obama administration issued its guidance, and dozens of students have won court cases against their colleges for violating their rights under those rules.

The DeVos rules lean heavily on legal precedent, including Supreme Court decisions, to narrow the definition of sexual harassment, tighten reporting requirements and detail the steps that schools must take to provide support for accusers. They also require colleges to hold a live hearing with cross-examination by a third party and offer schools the flexibility to choose their evidentiary standard. The rules also require that cases be investigated under a presumption of innocence and that parties have equal access to evidence and appeals processes.

The DeVos guidance also applies to all primary and secondary schools that receive federal funding, though there are adjustments for investigations involving small children.

Civil liberties groups that endorsed those rules said they were concerned about how the Biden administration’s efforts would shake out for survivors and accused students alike.

The Trump administration took into account more than 120,000 comments and several changes that victims’ rights groups pressed for, such as a dating violence definition, “rape shield” protections and mandating “supportive measures” for victims, even if they did not file a formal complaint.

Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit civil liberties group, said the new regulations reflected “a good-faith effort to try to make this process work for all students.”

“There are students who are raped on college campuses, and there are students who are wrongly accused, and we should not be choosing between which of those groups we wish to give justice,” Mr. Cohn said. “The one-sided rhetoric doesn’t lead us to have confidence at this point that the rights of the accused will seriously be taken into account.”

When the Trump administration’s rules were proposed, Mr. Biden said they would “return us to the days when schools swept rape and assault under the rug, and survivors were shamed into silence.”

Ms. DeVos strongly criticized Mr. Biden’s objections to the rule last spring, when he was the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, telling The Washington Examiner that she was “disgusted” by his position.

Victims’ rights advocates said the chilling effect they had feared from the DeVos guidance had borne out, even during the pandemic, when colleges have struggled to carry out the cumbersome and costly rules.

Sage Carson, the manager of Know Your IX, a survivor advocacy group, said that since the rules took effect in August, victims had reached out to the organization either confused about their rights under the new regulation or concerned that their schools were weaponizing it. The group has called on the Biden administration to write a new rule, issue new guidance and conduct a listening tour.

“We’re really seeing it used as a way for schools to confuse and manipulate survivors, which is really what we’ve seen for decades,” Ms. Carson said of the DeVos rules. “Now it’s this really scary process on the books, and it gives the schools a way to say, ‘Do you really want to go through this?’”

The Biden administration’s decision to review Title IX policies also comes as states around the country introduce their own legislation to bar transgender female athletes from competing on sports teams that do not match their biological sex at birth. Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, a Republican, said last week that he would sign a bill barring transgender athletes from girls’ or women’s sports teams. A similar law enacted last year in Idaho has met legal challenges.

Mr. Melnick, the politics professor, said the Trump administration had revoked the Obama-era guidance on the rights of transgender students but had not issued a regulation.

“The Biden administration could simply reinstate the previous policy,” Mr. Melnick said, “which is that in anything that is sex segregated, schools should use gender identification.”

The administration in February retracted its support for a Trump-era lawsuit seeking to block transgender students from participating in girls’ high school sports. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights also reversed the Trump administration’s decision to withhold federal funding from schools in Connecticut, Dr. Cardona’s home state, that allowed transgender girls and women to compete on sports teams with biological girls and women.

“We have the tools that we have,” Ms. Klein said, “which are federal laws and the bully pulpit and clarity about our policy and values.”

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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.

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WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”

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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades

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That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like MoveOn.org were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.

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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?

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There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.

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