Federal workers told to leave early as severe weather threatens DC, Northeast

Federal workers have been told to go home early as severe weather is expected to hit the Washington, D.C., area and parts of the Northeast region of the country. 

In a news release Monday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said federal employees located in the D.C. area were authorized to leave their workplaces two hours earlier than expected, and that all employees must evacuate their buildings “no later than 3:00 at which time Federal offices are closed.”

The OPM added that emergency federal employees are expected to remain at their worksite unless otherwise directed by their employer. 

The National Weather Service (NWS) declared a tornado watch for D.C. and parts of the southeastern region of the country through 9 p.m. Monday. The NWS said widespread storms with strong winds, hail and tornadoes are likely to happen throughout the day across parts of the mid-Atlantic region and cautioned area residents to plan to be inside when the storm hits.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) also announced that it will prepare to deploy additional services.

“Due to severe weather expected today, we understand many are heading home. Our trains & buses are operating on time,” WMATA said in a statement. “We strongly advise our customers to avoid traveling later this afternoon.”

NWS’s Baltimore-Washington center already informed residents of Hagerstown, MD to take shelter as a severe thunderstorm capable of producing tennis ball sized hail is moving to their region.

Parts of Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky are under the tornado watch.

It's been a decade since the D.C. metropolitan area was placed under a Level 4 risk Tornado watch. According to NWS Prediction Center, a set of severe storms brought six tornadoes to the area in June 2013. 

Updated at 5:24 p.m.

Harris fires back at DeSantis offer to talk Florida’s Black history curriculum

Vice President Harris on Tuesday fired back after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis offered to discuss his state's African American history standards following Florida's approval of controversial new rules for teaching the subject.

"Right here in Florida, they plan to teach students that enslaved people benefited from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, in an attempt to divide and distract our nation with unnecessary debates, and now they attempt to legitimize these unnecessary debates with a proposal that most recently came in of a politically motivated roundtable," Harris said in remarks at the Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Quadrennial Convention.

"Well, I'm here in Florida and I will tell you, there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact: There were no redeeming qualities of slavery," she added.

The vice president's appearance at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando comes amid contention with DeSantis after Florida’s Board of Education passed the new standards, which Harris said in a separate trip to Florida last month was the state “pushing propaganda” onto children.

DeSantis, who is running for the GOP nomination for president, invited Harris in a Monday letter to Tallahassee to discuss the new standards.

“In Florida we are unafraid to have an open and honest dialogue about the issues,” DeSantis wrote in the letter to Harris. “And you clearly have no trouble ducking down to Florida on short notice. So given your grave concern (which, I must assume, is sincere) about what you think our standards say, I am officially inviting you back down to Florida to discuss our African American History standards.” 

The Florida governor had dismissed the vice president's criticisms of the standards and accused her of crafting a “fake narrative" about the curriculum.

One new standard that has come under scrutiny directs teachers to include instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Harris has said it's "ridiculous" to have to say "that enslaved people do not benefit from slavery."

"As I said last week, when I was again here in Florida, we will not stop calling out and fighting back against extremist so-called leaders who try to prevent our children from learning our true and full history," Harris said Tuesday at the event in DeSantis's state. "And so, in this moment, let us remember, it is in the darkness that the candle shines most brightly."

Gaetz calls DeSantis ‘thirsty’ for inviting Harris to Florida amid curriculum drama 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) “thirsty” for inviting Vice President Harris to their home state to debate over African American history standards approved last month.

“Imagine being desperate enough to be thirsty for a Kamala visit,” Gaetz posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, alongside the letter DeSantis sent to Harris inviting her to Florida.

DeSantis, who is vying to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024, sent Harris a letter Monday inviting her to come to Florida to discuss the new rules for teaching Black history in the state. He said that he could meet with Harris as soon as Wednesday, adding that he hopes she is “feeling up to it.”

“In Florida we are unafraid to have an open and honest dialogue about the issues,” DeSantis wrote in the letter. “And you clearly have no trouble ducking down to Florida on short notice."

"So given your grave concern (which, I must assume, is sincere) about what you think our standards say, I am officially inviting you back down to Florida to discuss our African American History standards," he added.

Harris has been outspoken about the new rules, which require lessons on race to be taught in an “objective” manner that does not seek to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” She said during a trip to Jacksonville, Fla., that the state was “pushing propaganda” onto children over the new standards — which also mandates teachers instruct on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied to their personal benefit.” 

DeSantis has pushed back on her comments, however, accusing Harris of creating a “fake narrative” with her remarks. Harris has stood by her criticism, saying Monday that it was “ridiculous” to have to say slavery had no benefits.

DeSantis has faced criticism from both Democrats and Republicans over the new history standards in the state. He has also come under scrutiny from Black conservatives, including fellow GOP presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C), who said in response to the new guidelines that “there is no silver lining in slavery.”

The Hill has reached out to DeSantis's office for comment.

Donalds, DeSantis aides clash over Florida’s new education guidelines

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) clashed Wednesday with aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his presidential campaign after the congressman expressed reservations about new education guidelines in the state focused on African American history.

Donalds, the lone Black Republican in the Florida congressional delegation and a supporter of former President Trump's 2024 bid, said the state's new standards for African-American history are "good, robust, & accurate."

"That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn't the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this," Donalds posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Florida’s new guidelines, which passed last week, require lessons on race to be taught in an “objective” manner that does not seek to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”

One update requires teachers to instruct on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” 

DeSantis aides were quick to criticize Donalds, accusing him of parroting White House talking points in the wake of sharp criticism from Vice President Harris and other administration officials.

"Supposed conservatives in the federal government are pushing the same false narrative that originated from the @WhiteHouse," Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis' press secretary, posted on X in response to Donalds. "Florida isn’t going to hide the truth for political convenience. Maybe the congressman shouldn’t swing for the liberal media fences like @VP."

Donalds responded with surprise that he was taking incoming after expressing support for most of the changes.

"Anyone who can't accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points," Donalds posted. "Just another reason why l'm proud to have endorsed President Donald J. Trump!"

Christina Pushaw, who served in the governor's office and works on the DeSantis campaign's rapid response team, replied with a GIF of Harris giving a thumbs up.

Redfern retweeted Pushaw's message, and in a separate response to Donalds wrote that the congressman was "repeating false talking points pushed by the Biden @WhiteHouse."

The online sparring between DeSantis's team and Donalds comes as the governor's presidential campaign has undergone something of a reset in the face of difficulties gaining ground on Trump in the polls and questions about the operation's spending strategy.

DeSantis entered the presidential race in May and was widely viewed as Trump's most formidable challenger, but the governor has struggled to put a dent in the former president's sizable polling lead nationally and in early voting states like Iowa.

His campaign has faced blowback for multiple online missteps, including its initial launch on Twitter Spaces and the sharing of a video criticizing Trump as too friendly to the LGBTQ community.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, called it a "disgrace" for a DeSantis spokesperson to be attacking the congressman.

"Congressman Byron Donalds is a conservative hero,” Miller said in a statement to The Hill. “The Republican Party is lucky to have him as a leader, and President Trump is honored to have his endorsement.”

"The Congressman also calls it like he sees it, and if he thinks something is BS, he'll tell you,” Miller added. “That's why we like him so much.”

The Memo: Texas killing sparks outrage from Biden’s border critics

A horrific mass killing in Texas has opened new sores in the national debate over illegal immigration and crime.

Five people, including a young boy whose age has been reported as 8 or 9, were killed Friday in Cleveland, Texas. The shooting in the small community about 45 miles north of Houston happened after neighbors reportedly told a man to stop shooting in his yard and he became enraged. 

The alleged shooter has been named as Francisco Oropeza, 38. As of Monday afternoon, law enforcement agencies have been unable to apprehend Oropeza, despite a massive manhunt.

The case has taken on political power for reasons beyond the gruesome nature of the killing.

Oropeza is a Mexican national who appears to have been in the United States illegally. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have confirmed that he was deported on at least four previous occasions stretching back more than a decade.

His previous deportations, those officials said, took place in March 2009, September 2009, January 2012 and July 2016.

That record, and the terrible crime of which he stands accused, has outraged those who want a stricter border policy.

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, noted that seeking to illegally reenter the United States having previously been deported is a felony.

“Had we prosecuted him for that felony, he would not have been able to kill” his alleged victims, Judd said.

Judd also made a wider point about border policy under President Biden.

“When you hear people like [Homeland Security] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas say the border is not open, you have to look at this particular case … If somebody was able to reenter this country five different times despite being deported, that clearly shows the border is, in fact, open.”

Liberal advocates hit back, arguing that, historically, immigrants commit crime at lower rates than native-born Americans — and that attempts to draw a cause-and-effect line between immigration policy and the latest killing are raw demagoguery.

It’s a point that finds support from some independent observers.

Rhetoric linking illegal immigration and violent crime “has been used for a long time,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

“None of the social science data confirms that is true and it quite often shows the opposite — that neighborhoods with a lot of immigration are safer,” said Zelizer. “But politically it has been very powerful. It creates the idea of an enemy coming from outside who is now inside.”

The political battle is only growing more intense.

“This illegal alien brutally murdered 5 individuals in an ‘execution-style’ shooting,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) tweeted Monday. “He was previously deported and has been arrested numerous times. Why was he in our country roaming around freely?”

Biggs called for the impeachment of Mayorkas.

Kari Lake, the defeated GOP candidate in last November’s Arizona gubernatorial election, tweeted, “How do we continue to let these criminals into the country?”

At Monday’s media briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre characterized the events in Cleveland as “yet another shocking, horrific act of gun violence.” 

Jean-Pierre noted that while President Biden was “praying” for those affected, “the president believes prayers alone are not enough.” 

The press secretary noted Biden’s desire for Congress to pass stricter gun-control legislation — a long-held wish that has almost no chance of being fulfilled anytime soon.

Continuing the political back-and-forth, the Republican National Committee tweeted within minutes of Jean-Pierre’s opening remarks that she did “not mention” that Oropeza is “an illegal immigrant who has been deported FIVE TIMES.”

The atrocity in Texas arises at an especially febrile time when it comes to debates about the border.

Encounters between unauthorized migrants and Customs and Border Protection agents at the southwestern border hit their highest figure ever recorded last December, at more than 252,000. 

The figure declined significantly in January and February, to fewer than 160,000 in each month. But in March, the most recent month for which data is available, those encounters rose again, to almost 192,000.

It is widely expected that those numbers will surge once Title 42 ends in less than two weeks. That Trump-era policy, continued under Biden, was used to quickly expel migrants and is expected to end on May 11.

Immigration has long been one of Biden’s weakest political issues and Republicans are sure to want to press their advantage on the topic as the presidential campaign heats up. 

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll in mid-April, just 27 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of immigration — tying for the lowest approval number in any of the 11 issues tested in that survey.

Advocates of a stricter immigration policy see the shooting in Texas as evidence of how badly the current policy is falling.

“It’s just another example of what happens when we fail to enforse our laws, when you fail to enforce the border,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors a stricter immigration system. “Virtually nobody is deported anymore.”

But Mehlman distanced himself from a controversial statement from the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which referred to the victims of the Cleveland shooting as “five illegal immigrants.”

“It doesn’t matter what the immigration states of the victims is,” Mehlman said. “Nobody should be killed for asking a guy to stop shooting in his backyard.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

28 percent in new poll want focus on presidential impeachment investigation

About 28 percent of American voters questioned in a new poll say the incoming Republican majority in the House should investigate the potential impeachment of President Biden.

Just 6 percent of Democrats in the Morning Consult-Politico poll said focusing on the impeachment of Biden was a top priority for them, compared to 55 percent of Republicans.

Some Republicans have long promised to launch impeachment proceedings against Biden if the GOP won the majority in Congress after the midterm elections, including far-right lawmaker Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Republicans did secure control of the House in the midterm elections, although with a narrower majority than some observers expected.

In a conference vote last week, the party voted to keep House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in the leadership post.

McCarthy, who still has to win votes on the floor when the next Congress assembles in January to become Speaker, has seemed less amenable to impeachment proceedings.

In an interview with CNN earlier this month, McCarthy promised he would never pursue impeachment proceedings for "political purposes," but said that "doesn't mean if something rises to the occasion it would not be used."

The GOP has also promised to launch a multitude of probes once it assumes the majority next year, including investigations into President Biden's son, Hunter Biden, and his business dealings.

About 28 percent of American voters say they back an investigation into Hunter Biden, according to the Morning Consult poll. About 7 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans say the next Congress should focus on investigating Hunter Biden.

President Biden has called the possible impeachment probes "almost comedy."

“I think the American public want us to move on and get things done for them,” he added.

The Morning Consult-Politico poll was conducted Nov. 10-14 among 1,983 registered voters. The margin of error is 2 percentage points.