Four former Minneapolis police officers were indicted on charges of violating the civil rights of George Floyd, a Black man whose killing last year led to months of demonstrations against police violence, the Justice Department announced on Friday.
The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury weeks after one of the officers, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Floyd. The charges are another extraordinary censuring of law enforcement officials, who rarely face criminal charges for using deadly force.
The indictment charges Mr. Chauvin, 45, and other former Minneapolis Police Department officers Tou Thao, 35, J. Alexander Kueng, 27, and Thomas Lane, 38, with willfully depriving Mr. Floyd of his constitutional civil rights during his arrest.
The indictment alleges that by holding his left knee across Mr. Floyd’s neck and his right knee on his back and arm as he lay on the ground, handcuffed and unresisting, Mr. Chauvin used unconstitutional, unreasonable force that resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death.
Mr. Thao and Mr. Kueng were charged with willfully failing to stop Mr. Chauvin from using unreasonable force. All four defendants saw Mr. Floyd lying on the ground in need of medical care and willfully failed to aid him, depriving him of his constitutional right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, which included Mr. Floyd’s right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, the indictment said.
A second indictment also charged Mr. Chauvin with depriving a teenager of his civil rights during a September 2017 encounter in which the former officer is accused of holding the minor by the throat and striking his head multiple times with a flashlight.
Mr. Chauvin held his knee on the neck and the upper back of the teenager, even after the child lay prone, handcuffed and unresisting, and that resulted in injuries, the indictment said.
The latest charges are separate from the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced on April 21. And they are separate from the state charges against Mr. Thao, Mr. Kueng and Mr. Lane.
In recent years, the Justice Department has opened civil rights investigations into high-profile assaults and killings of Black people by police officers, but the inquires have rarely resulted in charges against officers in part because the standard for the federal charge — that in the course of policing, an officer willfully deprived a person of civil rights — is a high bar to meet.
It can be difficult to show that an officer willfully intended to deprive people of their civil rights, former lawyers in the Justice Department’s civil rights division have said. Prosecutors argued against charging Daniel Pantaleo, the officer involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, in part because they said that Mr. Pantaleo’s intent in putting Mr. Garner in a choke hold was unclear.
“Willfulness is the highest intent standard under criminal law — that the person set out to act with the purpose of depriving someone of their rights,” said Jonathan M. Smith, a former official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division who now serves as executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
A disappointing jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department is posing the greatest test yet of President Biden’s strategy to revive the pandemic economic recovery, as business groups and Republicans push the president to end an expanded benefit for the unemployed that they say is causing a labor shortage and risking runaway inflation.
But administration officials say there is no evidence in the report — which found the economy added 266,000 jobs in April, well below the one million jobs many economists expected — that hiring has been slowed by the additional $300 per week that unemployed Americans are currently eligible to receive under the $1.9 trillion economic aid bill that Mr. Biden signed into law in March.
The officials stress that the monthly employment numbers are volatile and subject to revision, and that the average gain over the last three months remains well above the pace of job creation that Mr. Biden inherited when he took office in January. They say any clogs in the labor market are likely to be temporary, and that the recovery will smooth out once more working-age Americans are fully vaccinated.
“This is progress,” Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “We are adding an average of over 500,000 jobs a month” over the last three months, she said. “That’s evidence that our approach is working, that the president’s approach is working. It also emphasizes the steep climb coming out of this crisis.”
Ms. Boushey and Jared Bernstein, another member of the council, both said they saw no evidence in the monthly report that expanded unemployment benefits were deterring Americans from going back to work. They pointed to a gain of 300,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector and to a falling number of workers who told the department they had left the labor force out of concern over contracting Covid-19.
Critics of the expanded benefit saw the opposite: a clear indication in the report — and in survey data showing businesses are struggling to attract qualified applicants for jobs at the wages they want to pay — that it is time to end the expanded benefit.
“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a news release. “We need a comprehensive approach to dealing with our work force issues and the very real threat unfilled positions poses to our economic recovery from the pandemic. One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit.”
Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein rejected that view. They said that it appeared the economy was working through a variety of rapid changes related to the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions that have hurt automobile manufacturing by reducing the availability of semiconductor chips and businesses beginning to rehire after a year of depressed activity from the virus.
“It’s our view that these misalignments and bottlenecks are transitory,” Mr. Bernstein said, “and they’re what you expect from an economy going from shutdown to reopening.”
The chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, stressed the potential uncertainties in interpreting data from the pandemic in a blog post analyzing the report. “There is often month-to-month volatility in the jobs numbers,” she wrote. “However, the same ‘amount’ of volatility is more striking when the volume of changes is larger, as it has been during the pandemic.”
Minutes after a group of congressional Democrats unveiled a bill recently to add seats to the Supreme Court, the Iowa Republican Party slammed Representative Cindy Axne, a Democrat and potential Senate candidate, over the issue.
“Will Axne Pack the Court?” was the headline on a statement the party rushed out, saying the move to expand the court “puts our democracy at risk.”
The attack vividly illustrated the emerging Republican strategy for an intensive drive to try to take back the House and the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans are mostly steering clear of Democrats’ economic initiatives that have proved popular, such as an infrastructure package and a stimulus law that coupled pandemic relief with major expansions of safety-net programs.
Instead, they are focusing on polarizing issues that stoke conservative outrage, seizing on measures like the court-expansion bill and calls to defund the police — which many Democrats oppose — and efforts to provide legal status to undocumented immigrants and grant statehood to the District of Columbia to caricature Democrats as extreme.
Republicans are also hammering at issues of race and sexual orientation, seeking to use Democrats’ push to confront systemic racism and safeguard transgender rights as attack lines.
The approach comes as President Biden and Democrats, eager to capitalize on their unified control of Congress and the White House, have become increasingly bold about speaking about such issues and promoting a wide array of party priorities that languished during years of Republican rule. It has given Republicans ample fodder for attacks that have proved potent in the past.
“They are putting the ball on the tee, handing me the club and putting the wind at my back,” said Jeff Kaufmann, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party.
Democrats argue that Republicans are focusing on side issues and twisting their positions because the G.O.P. has nothing else to campaign on, as Democrats line up accomplishments to show to voters, including the pandemic aid bill that passed without a single Republican vote.
“That was very popular, and I can understand why Republicans don’t want to talk about it,” said Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “But we’re going to keep reminding folks who was there when they needed them.”
Hours after Florida installed a rash of new voting restrictions, the Republican-led Legislature in Texas pressed ahead on Thursday with its own far-reaching bill that would make it one of the most difficult states in the nation in which to cast a ballot.
The Texas bill would, among other restrictions, greatly empower partisan poll watchers, prohibit election officials from mailing out absentee ballot applications and impose strict punishments for those who provide assistance outside the lines of what is permissible.
After a lengthy debate that lasted into the early morning hours on Friday, the State House of Representatives passed the measure in a 81-64 vote, largely along party lines, at about 3 a.m., following a flurry of amendments that had been spurred by Democratic protests and a Democratic procedural move known as a point of order.
The new amendments softened some of the initial new penalties proposed for those who run afoul of the rules and added that the police could be called to remove unruly partisan poll watchers. Other amendments added by Democrats sought to expand ballot access, including with changes to ballot layout and with voter registration at high schools. But those amendments could be knocked off by a potential conference committee.
The bill will soon head to the Republican-controlled Senate following a third reading in the House. Gov. Greg Abbott has been supportive of the current voting bills in the legislature.
Briscoe Cain, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said he had filed it “to ensure that we have an equal and uniform application of our election code and to protect people from being taken advantage of.”
He was quickly challenged by Jessica González, a Democratic representative and vice chair of the House Election Committee, who argued that the bill was a solution in search of problem. She cited testimony in which the Texas secretary of state said that the 2020 election had been found to be “free, fair and secure.”
Florida and Texas are critical Republican-led battleground states with booming populations and 70 Electoral College votes between them. The new measures the legislatures are putting in place represent the apex of the current Republican effort to roll back access to voting across the country following the loss of the White House amid historic turnout in the 2020 election.
Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, with great fanfare, signed his state’s new voting bill, which passed last week.
“Right now, I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” Mr. DeSantis said, though he has praised Florida’s handling of last November’s elections.
Ohio, another state under complete Republican control, introduced a new omnibus voting bill on Thursday that would further limit drop boxes in the state, limit ballot collection processes and reduce early in-person voting by one day, while also making improvements to access such as an online absentee ballot request portal and automatic registration at motor vehicle offices.
Iowa and Georgia have already passed bills that not only impose new restrictions but grant those states’ legislatures greater control over the electoral process.
Republicans have pressed forward with these bills over the protests of countless Democrats, civil rights groups, faith leaders, voting rights groups and multinational corporations, displaying an increasing no-apologies aggressiveness in rolling back access to voting.
As House Republicans have made the case for ousting Representative Liz Cheney, their No. 3, from their leadership ranks, they have insisted that it is not her repudiation of former President Donald J. Trump’s election lies that they find untenable, but her determination to be vocal about it.
But on Thursday, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the Republican whom leaders have anointed as Ms. Cheney’s replacement in waiting, loudly resurrected his false narrative, citing “unprecedented, unconstitutional overreach” by election officials in 2020 and endorsing an audit in Arizona that has become the latest avenue for conservatives to try to cast doubt on the results.
“It is important to stand up for these constitutional issues, and these are questions that are going to have to be answered before we head into the 2022 midterms,” Ms. Stefanik told Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former strategist, in the first of a pair of interviews on Thursday with hard-right acolytes of the former president.
The comments, Ms. Stefanik’s first in public since she announced she was taking on Ms. Cheney, reflected how central the former president’s election lies have become to the Republican Party message, even as its leaders insist they are determined to move beyond them and focus on attacking Democrats as radical, big-spending socialists before the 2022 midterm elections.
Far from staying quiet about the false election claims on Thursday, Ms. Stefanik effectively campaigned on them, describing Mr. Trump on Mr. Bannon’s show as the “strongest supporter of any president when it comes to standing up for the Constitution,” and asserting that Republicans would work with him as “one team.”
“The job of the conference chair is to represent the majority of the House Republicans, and the vast majority of the House Republicans support President Trump, and they support his focus on election integrity and election security,” Ms. Stefanik later told Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to Mr. Trump.
While Ms. Stefanik avoided claiming outright that the election was stolen, she praised the Arizona audit, a Republican-led endeavor that critics in both parties have described as a blow to democratic norms and a political embarrassment, as “incredibly important.”
The American jobs engine slowed markedly last month, confounding rosy forecasts of the pace of the recovery and sharpening debates over how best to revive a labor market that was severely weakened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Employers added 266,000 jobs in April, the government reported Friday, far below the vigorous gains registered in March. The jobless rate rose slightly to 6.1 percent, as more people rejoined the labor force.
“It turns out it’s easier to put an economy into a coma than wake it up,” Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said of the disappointing report. “It’s understandable, it’s going to take some time, you’re not just going to snap your fingers and get everyone back to work,
Economists had forecast an addition of about a million jobs. The increase for March was revised down to 770,000 from 916,000.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing blamed supply chain problems for the loss of 18,000 jobs in that sector, noting in particular the impact that a shortage of semiconductors has had on the automotive industry.
And many offices are not yet ready to reopen fully. “I just think it takes a while for businesses to figure out how many people they need,” Ms. Swonk said, noting there is still a lot of skittishness on the part of employers and workers. “I don’t view this as terribly troubling or distressing.”
Ben Herzon, executive director of U.S. economics at the financial services company IHS Markit, agreed. “A single report with unexpected weakness in job gains is not a cause for concern,” he said. “Demand is picking up, activity is picking up.”
He noted that labor force participation had been on the upswing for two months in a row, rising to 61.7 percent last month from 61.4 percent in February.
More opportunities are bubbling up as coronavirus infections ebb, vaccinations spread, restrictions lift and businesses reopen. Job postings on the online job site Indeed are 24 percent higher than they were in February last year.
“There’s been a broad-based pickup in demand,” said Nick Bunker, who leads North American economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. The supercharged housing market is driving demand for construction workers. There is also an abundance of loading, stocking and other warehousing jobs — a side-effect of the boom in e-commerce.
The economy still has a lot of ground to regain before returning to prepandemic levels. Millions of jobs have vanished since February 2020, and the labor force has shrunk.
As the economy fitfully recovers, there are divergent accounts of what’s going on in the labor market. Employers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industry, have reported scant response to help-wanted ads. Several have blamed what they call overly generous government jobless benefits, including a temporary $300-a-week federal stipend that was part of an emergency pandemic relief program.
But there are other forces constraining the return to work. Millions of Americans have said that health concerns and child care responsibilities — with many schools and day care centers not back to normal operations — have prevented them from returning to work. Millions of others who are not actively job hunting are considered on temporary layoff and expect to be hired back by their previous employers once more businesses reopen fully. At the same time, some baby boomers have retired or switched to working part time.
MIDLOTHIAN, Va. — One candidate brands himself a “conservative outlaw.” Another boasts of her bipartisan censure by the State Senate for calling the Capitol rioters “patriots.” A third, asked about Dominion voting machines — the subject of egregious conspiracy theories on the right — called them “the most important issue” of the campaign.
These are not fringe candidates for the Republican nomination for Virginia governor.
They are three of the leading contenders in a race that in many ways embodies the decade-long meltdown of Republican power in Virginia, a once-purple state that has gyrated more decisively toward Democrats than perhaps any in the country. In part, that is because of the hard-right focus of recent Republican officeseekers, a trend that preceded former President Donald J. Trump and became a riptide during his time in the White House.
The party’s race to the right shows no sign of tempering as a preselected group of Republicans gather on Saturday at 39 sites around Virginia to choose a nominee for governor. That candidate will advance to a November general election that has traditionally been a report card on the party in power in Washington, as well as a portent of the midterms nationally.
After a monthslong G.O.P. schism, Virginia Republicans decided to hold a nominating convention rather than a primary, which would attract a broader field of voters. At the party’s “disassembled convention,” as it is called, delegates who have been vetted by local Republican officials will choose the nominee, which critics say perpetuates the party’s narrow appeal.
Al and Julia Kent, moderate Republican voters in the Richmond suburbs, won’t be participating.
“It’s so confusing,” said Mr. Kent, an Air Force veteran who found the paperwork to register for Saturday’s nominating process to be intrusive. He said it had asked questions that “the Republican Party doesn’t need to know.”
His wife, a retired preschool teacher, said, “I don’t think the Republican Party is listening to anybody — the normal class of people, what they want.”
The Kents both voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020, but they are worried about his legacy of divisiveness, in America and the G.O.P. “I think he’s ruined the Republican Party,” Ms. Kent said.
A poll this week by Christopher Newport University found that majorities of Virginia voters supported liberal policies, including “Medicare for all,” a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants and a Green New Deal to tackle climate change.
Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the Republican candidates for governor this year fit into three categories: “Trumpy, Trumpier, Trumpiest.”
By embracing the former president, who lost Virginia by 10 percentage points last year, Republicans are trading electability in the general election for viability in a primary. “They play the Republican nominating game very well, but they go so far to the right that most people find them offensive,” Mr. Sabato said. “It’s not respectable anymore for well-educated people to identify with the Trump G.O.P.”
Frustrated by the lack of drugs available to carry out lethal injections in their state, South Carolina lawmakers are on the cusp of a controversial solution: forcing death row inmates to face the electric chair or firing squad when lethal injection is not possible.
A bill proposing that change, approved by the State House this week, appears almost certain to become law in the next few days, and is being lauded by Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, who have been vexed by pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to sell states the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections. The lack of drugs, they say, is a key reason South Carolina has not executed anyone in 10 years.
Opponents are appalled by the bill, which would make South Carolina the fourth state — along with Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — in which death by firing squad is an option for the condemned.
“Why would South Carolina move toward the firing squad when they also do that in North Korea?” State Representative Justin Bamberg, a Democrat, said in an interview on Thursday.
South Carolina’s proposal comes at a complicated juncture for capital punishment in the United States. The nation has seen a general move away from the practice in recent years, but there has also been a vigorous effort to turn that tide, one headed most conspicuously by former President Donald J. Trump.
After years without a federal execution, Mr. Trump’s administration oversaw 13, more than a fifth of the prisoners who the Bureau of Prisons says were on death row. President Biden, by contrast, campaigned on a promise to end the death penalty for federal inmates and encourage states to follow suit.
Untrained citizens are trying to find traces of bamboo on last year’s ballots, seemingly trying to prove a conspiracy theory that the election was tainted by fake votes from Asia. Thousands of ballots are left unattended and unsecured. People with open partisan bias, including a man who was photographed on the Capitol steps during the Jan. 6 riot, are doing the recounting.
All of these issues with the Republican-backed re-examination of the November election results from Arizona’s most populous county were laid out this week by Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, in a scathing six-page letter.
Ms. Hobbs called the process “a significant departure from standard best practices.”
“Though conspiracy theorists are undoubtedly cheering on these types of inspections — and perhaps providing financial support because of their use — they do little other than further marginalize the professionalism and intent of this ‘audit,’” she wrote to Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state and the liaison between Republicans in the State Senate and the company conducting it.
The effort has no official standing and will not change the state’s vote, whatever it finds. But it has become so troubled that the Department of Justice also expressed concerns this week in a letter saying that it might violate federal laws.
The scene in Arizona is perhaps the most off-the-rails episode in the Republican Party’s escalating effort to support former President Donald J. Trump’s lie that he won the election. Four months after Congress certified the results, local officials around the country are continuing to provide oxygen for Mr. Trump’s obsession.
Republican state senators ordered the review in Maricopa County, whose 2.1 million ballots accounted for two-thirds of the entire state vote, in December, after some supporters of Mr. Trump refused to accept his 10,457-vote loss in Arizona.
The senators assigned oversight of the effort to a Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive had publicly embraced conspiracy theories claiming that voting machines had been rigged. Since then, supporters of Mr. Trump’s stolen-election story line have been given broad access to the site of the review, while election experts, the press and independent observers have struggled to gain access, sometimes going to court.
Ms. Hobbs’s letter to Mr. Bennett, the liaison, ended: “I’m not sure what compelled you to oversee this audit, but I’d like to assume you took this role with the best of intentions. It is those intentions I appeal to now: either do it right, or don’t do it at all.”