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Senate Holds All-Night ‘Vote-a-Rama,’ With Democrats’ Agenda at Stake

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WASHINGTON — A bleary-eyed Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who brokered the climate, health and tax deal that was on a glide path to passage within hours, sat silently at his desk in the Senate chamber around midnight on Saturday, gazing blankly into the middle distance as he munched on M&Ms.

A triumph was nearly at hand on a substantial piece of Democrats’ domestic agenda — but first, Mr. Manchin and his colleagues would have to pull an all-nighter, fueled by junk food and caffeine, perhaps some liquor and plenty of politically charged speeches, as they debated and voted on a rapid-fire series of nonbinding amendments.

The vote-a-rama (yes, it is actually called that), a familiar but reviled ritual for the octogenarians and elders who make up the Senate, began late Saturday night and stretched into Sunday morning. It was a final chance for Republicans to try to derail Democrats’ top legislative priority — or at least to lob political attacks against them on its path to passage — and a test of Democratic resolve to preserve their delicate compromise.

It was also the ultimate display of senatorial weirdness and dysfunction — a time-consuming exercise that has little impact on policy but keeps senators up through the night, ending only when they run out of steam for offering more amendments. They were still at it midmorning on Sunday after about 12 hours, with no certain indication of when they would finish.

“You know how much I’ll miss vote-a-rama?” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who is retiring this year. “The answer is not at all.”

The vote-a-rama is part of the arcane process known as reconciliation that Democrats are using to speed their sweeping climate, energy and tax package through Congress. It shields certain budget-related legislation from a filibuster, allowing it to pass with a simple majority rather than the normal 60 votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster.

But it also allows any senator to offer any proposal to change the legislation when it reaches the floor. That gives rise to all manner of political point-making — in this case, just a few months before midterm elections.

In anticipation of the theatrics, senators stocked their offices with blankets, snacks and energy drinks. Takeout food containers could be spotted throughout the Capitol hallways on Saturday night. By 8 a.m. on Sunday, more than eight hours after it began, senators reclined in their chairs and Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, let out a yawn and rubbed his eyes.

It was the fourth vote-a-rama for the current Congress, with previous episodes each drawing about 40 votes. This time as in the past, Democrats were holding together to fend off Republican efforts to torpedo their bill, defeating amendments along party lines.

They included an attempt to slash the funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. Republican senators also tried and failed to add oil and gas lease sales in certain states.

In a bid to squeeze Democrats on a politically potent issue, Republicans forced a vote taking out a tax on gas and energy companies, which they argued could drive the country into a recession and raise prices at the pump.

Republicans succeeded in making one change to the bill, striking a provision that would have capped insulin prices at $35 per month. Democrats left it in the legislation even amid concern that it could violate reconciliation rules, effectively daring Republicans to demand the removal of a popular measure and go on the record voting to do so. (The action left the cap intact for Medicare patients, millions of whom have diabetes and could still benefit from it.)

Members of the Democratic caucus also used the process to make political points. Senator Bernie Sanders, 80, the Vermont independent and Budget Committee chairman, offered up several proposals throughout the night to express his disappointment over how much the bill had been scaled back.

“This could be actually the very last time in a long time that people are going to have the opportunity to vote” on progressive issues, Mr. Sanders said on Sunday morning at about 8:30, his eyes bloodshot after a sleepless night.

But Democrats were determined to resist the temptation to alter the legislation even slightly, fearful of losing the unanimous support of their caucus for a fragile compromise.

“This one is so delicately balanced that ANY amendment, even a ‘good’ one, risks upsetting the balance — so look forward to a lot of ‘no’ votes on things we would ordinarily want,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, explained in a Twitter post.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic added yet another element of risk to the session, as the 100 senators — the oldest class in recent history — gathered for hours on end to cast votes in a confined indoor space. With their bare-minimum margin of control in the 50-50 Senate, Democrats could not afford even one illness that could deprive them of their majority.

“With the way Covid numbers are now, it’s likely one of those individuals could have Covid,” said Kirsten Coleman, an assistant research professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, who noted that the event created the perfect conditions for a superspreader event.

“I would be especially cautious because there is an older age group, which is at higher risk for more severe illness if they do catch Covid,” she added.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, wondered aloud whether Democrats might have opted not to test for Covid to avoid imperiling their bill, saying that doing so for the voting marathon could endanger “not only each other, but the staff members, the Capitol Police, the custodial staff, food service workers and countless others who keep this institution running.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, 89, said she was not especially concerned, as she planned to be masked and take necessary precautions. She added that she had been testing in the lead-up to the weekend.

“I’m not afraid of it. We do the best we can,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said he resumed wearing N-95 masks last week because he “didn’t want to get Covid and blow this.”

Still, business carried on as usual with mostly unmasked lawmakers huddled on the Senate floor instead of isolated in their personal offices, as many did in vote-a-ramas last year.

The vote-a-rama brought Senator Patrick Leahy, 82, Democrat of Vermont, back to the Capitol for the first time since his hip surgery last month. An aide escorted the senator, who serves as the president pro tempore, through the Capitol in a Batman-themed wheelchair.

Senators prepared for the long evening as they normally did for vote-a-ramas: naps and stocking their offices with comfort foods and other items.

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said on the Senate floor that he had caught two hours of shut-eye before the fast-paced votes began.

Ms. Feinstein said she had Mounds bars and soft drinks readied; Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, had her beloved Atomic Fireballs in her purse for easy access; and Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, stocked cotton candy- and Hot Tamales-flavored Peeps, a product of his home state, for his staff to enjoy.

Mr. Schatz stocked his office with extra battery packs for his cellphone, a hoodie, drinks “and a little booze,” he said.

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.



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The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills

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The F.D.A. said it made the change now because it had completed a review of a 2018 application to alter the label that was submitted by Foundation Consumer Healthcare, a company that in 2017 bought the Plan B brand from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. Agency officials said the pandemic delayed the review process and that the timing was not motivated by political considerations.

A spokeswoman for the company, Dani Hirsch, said in an interview that for its 2018 application, the company had not conducted any new studies but had submitted “what was already out there.”

In a statement, the company’s marketing director, Tara Evans, said “the misconception that Plan B works by interfering with implantation can present barriers to broader emergency contraception access. The Plan B labeling correction will help protect continued over-the-counter emergency contraception access and reduce confusion about how Plan B works and further clarify that Plan B does not affect implantation.”

Plan B One-Step and its generic versions — including brands like Take Action, My Way and Option 2 — contain levonorgestrel, one of a class of hormones called progestins that are also found at lower doses in birth control pills and intrauterine devices. The pills are most effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, although they can sometimes work if taken within five days.

Another type of morning-after pill, marketed as Ella and containing a compound called ulipristal acetate, is only available by prescription and is not affected by the F.D.A.’s label change. There has been less research on this type of pill, but studies suggest that it is highly unlikely to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. In 2009, after months of scrutiny, Ella was approved for sale in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, where laws would have barred it if it had been considered to induce abortions.

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

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Who are Caroline Ellison’s parents? Fraudster’s mom and dad are MIT economists

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This apple fell far from the tree.

Caroline Ellison — who pleaded guilty to fraud charges related to her role in the FTX cryptocurrency scandal, which led to the extradition of Sam Bankman-Fried this week — is the daughter of high-profile economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to his curriculum vitae, Ellison’s father, Glenn Ellison, was educated at Harvard, Cambridge and MIT before becoming the Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at the latter. 

In addition to coaching youth softball and his daughters’ middle school math teams, he writes “Hard Math,” a series of textbooks and workbooks about teaching arithmetic to younger students.

Glenn Ellison is also an Elected Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory and American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Caroline Ellison’s parents, Glenn and Sara Ellison, outside their Newton, Mass., home in early December.
Robert Miller

Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is also an accomplished academic. Armed with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a mathematical statistics diploma from Cambridge University, her profile shows she completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993. 

Sara Ellison is currently a senior lecturer in the department alongside her husband.

“We were definitely exposed to a lot of economics [growing up],” Ellison, 28, once told Forbes.

Ellison, 28, plead guilty to fraud this week.
Ellison, 28, pleaded guilty to fraud this week.
Twitter / @AlamedaResearch
Caroline Ellison's sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
Caroline Ellison’s sister, Anna, now lives in the West Village.
BRIGITTE STELZER

Glenn and Sara Ellison were photographed by The Post outside their home in Newton, an affluent Boston suburb, earlier this month. Armed with several bags, they told reporters they were too “busy” to comment on the FTX scandal.

The eldest of three sisters — including Anna, 25, who now lives in Manhattan’s West Village — Ellison distinguished herself as a precocious math whiz at a young age. 

When she was just 8 years old, she reportedly presented her father with a paper analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Sam Bankman-Fried leaving Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
Matthew McDermott
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Both Glenn and Sara Ellison are economists at MIT.
Robert Miller

She went on to compete in the Math Prize for Girls while at Newton North High School before studying mathematics at Stanford University, where former professor Ruth Stackman described her to Forbes as “bright, focused, [and] very mathy.”

Ellison and Bankman-Fried, 30, crossed paths at the Wall Street trading firm Jane Street. Bankman-Fried’s parents are also both university lecturers, at Stanford in California. They became good friends and she joined Alameda Research, the hedge fund arm of the FTX crypto exchange, in 2018. She then became CEO in 2021. However, the company remained owned 90% by Bankman-Fried and 10% by another member of his circle.

In addition to documenting her supposed foray into polyamory on Tumblr, Ellison once boasted about drug use on social media.

Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Sara Ellison completed a doctorate at MIT in 1993.
Robert Miller

“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” she tweeted in 2021.

Ellison reportedly admitted to Alameda employees that FTX had used client funds to bail out the fledgeling hedge fund during a video call in November. She was eventually terminated as CEO by insolvency professional and current FTX CEO John J. Ray III after FTX and Alameda filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

She pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges on Monday, and has subsequently been released on $250,000 bail.

Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Ellison was spotted getting coffee in New York City on Dec. 4.
Twitter / @AutismCapital

Although she could be sent to jail for up to 110 years for her part in the FTX-Alameda scandal — which has been said by federal prosecutors to have lost between $1 billion and $2 billion of customers’ cash — she is thought to have struck a deal with the feds for a much lighter sentence in return for her cooperation.

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Iran condemns Zelensky’s remarks to Congress as ‘baseless.’

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Iran has condemned President Volodymyr Zelensky’s remarks to the U.S. Congress, warning the Ukrainian leader against further accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to Russia for use in the war.

Mr. Zelensky told Congress on Wednesday that Iranian-made drones “sent to Russia in hundreds” had been threatening Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, a view shared by American and European officials. In Iran, he said, Russia had found an “ally in its genocidal policy.”

A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, Nasser Kanaani, called Mr. Zelensky’s comments “rude” and “baseless.”

“Mr. Zelensky had better know that Iran’s strategic patience over such unfounded accusations is not endless,” Mr. Kanaani said in a statement on Thursday.

Although Iran has officially denied supplying Russia with the weapons since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said that the first shipment was delivered in August.

Mr. Zelensky has said that drones used in Monday’s wave of predawn attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were from a batch recently delivered to Russia by Iran. The strikes came after Biden administration officials said that Russia and Iran were strengthening their military ties into a “full-fledged defense partnership.”

The European Union last week condemned Iran’s military partnership with Russia as a gross violation of international law and announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities over their roles in supplying the drones that Moscow has used to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. That followed a round of sanctions on Iranians over the drone deliveries in October.

Mr. Kanaani “once again emphasizes” that Iran has not supplied military equipment for use in Ukraine, the statement issued on Thursday added, and urged Mr. Zelensky to learn “the fate of some other political leaders” who were happy with U.S. support. It was not clear which other leaders the statement was referring to.

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