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The Biden administration is making obvious moves to fix relations around the world and incoming Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is focusing on China. NBC News’ Janis Mackey Frayer reports.

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Reparations commissioners slated for top federal pay grade that hasn’t existed since 1978

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The Democrats’ proposed slavery reparations commission legislation contains an outdated provision that designates top-tier GS-18 federal pay for each member of the commission it establishes.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the highest pay grade for federal civil service employees is currently the GS-15 level, which goes up to $172,500.

The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act sets up the commission to “address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery.” The 13 colonies were under the control of Great Britain until the U.S. gained its independence in 1776.

If passed and signed into law, the bill would require the commission to “recommend appropriate remedies in consideration” of its findings after studying reparations and the history of slavery. 

According to the legislation, the 13-member commission would be comprised of “persons who are especially qualified to serve on the commission by virtue of their education, training, activism or experience, particularly in the field of African American studies and reparatory justice.” According to the legislation, “seven members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum, but a lesser number may hold hearings.” 

Each member of the commission would be paid at “the daily equivalent of the annual rate of basic pay payable for GS–18 of the General Schedule.” The language of this portion of the bill appears to be outdated because the federal government’s top pay levels of GS-16 through GS-18 ended with the passage of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.

According to an official summary of the bill, it repealed “the provisions of law relating to the special authority of agencies to (1) appoint individuals to positions at GS-16, GS-17, and GS-18 of the General Schedule, and (2) establish scientific and professional positions outside of the General Schedule.”

The top-tier pay grade for civil federal employees is currently GS-15. According to the Federal News Network

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, GS-15 pay for 2021 maxes out at $172,500 per year, including the 1% pay increase that “the vast majority of federal employees” received. Beyond GS-15, there is the elite Senior Executive Service, which is comprised of positions “just below the top presidential appointees,” according to OPM. These positions are part of a performance-based pay system, and the “applicable maximum rate of basic pay for the SES is $199,300.”

The reparations bill specifies that compensation for the commissioners would include pay for each day, including travel time, “during which he or she is engaged in the actual performance of duties vested in the commission.” The total cost of the bill is estimated at $12 million. 

The House bill, which has 162 Democratic co-sponsors, was introduced by Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. The Senate version that was introduced by New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has 17 Democratic co-sponsors. The bill was first introduced by former Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers in 1989.

Just the News found the original 1989 text of the bill, and it specifies that commissioners would be paid at the GS-18 level — which appears to indicate that compensation provision of the current version of the bill has not been updated in the ensuing decades.

Since the latest version of the bill still cites GS-18 for the commissioners’ compensation, it is unclear if the commissioners would be paid at the top GS-15 level or the Senior Executive Service level.

The offices of Jackson Lee and Booker did not return a request for comment about the federal pay provision of the legislation. 

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New York City reverses on de Blasio’s decision to close Trump-run ice rinks, after resident backlash

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New York City has reversed its decision to close two municipal ice rinks run by the Trump organization, after Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was required to make the decision because company CEO President Trump had engaged in criminal activity in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill breach.

“New York City kids deserve all the time on the ice they can get this year,” City Hall press secretary Bill Neidhardt announced Sunday, the scheduled last day. “The Wollman and Laskar rinks will stay open under current management for the few weeks left in this season,”

The contracts expire in April, but de Blaiso moved last month to close them by Feb. 26, sparking backlash by residents who have limited exercise options during the pandemic, and by community leaders, citing the end to hockey and skating programs for children. The move also purportedly impacted hundreds of employees.

“The real people they’re hurting are the 2,500 children that have been benefiting from the skating program this season and 250 innocent employees who have been keeping this going for us,” resident Lee Klausner told the New York Post.

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The Trump Organization purportedly planned to pack up a few day ahead of the deadline. 

“Inciting an insurrection – let’s be very clear, let’s say the words again – inciting an insurrection against the United States government clearly constitutes criminal activity,” de Blasio said in announcing the closure.

The Senate earlier this month in a congressional trial acquitted Trump on a single charge by the Democrat-controlled House of inciting an insurrection. 

Trump’s son Eric Trump, a Trump organization executive, tweeted Sunday after the city said the rinks will stay open into next month: “This is a bright moment for New York and please know we appreciate it. I look forward to saying ‘thanks’ in person.”

Still, Neidhardt made clear the contracts, include a third for a municipal golf course, are terminated in April.

“But make no mistake, we will not be doing business with the Trump Organization going forward,” he said. “Inciting an insurrection will never be forgotten or forgiven.”

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Asked if illegal border crossing should stay a crime, Garland says he’s never pondered that question

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Sen. Josh Hawley during a Monday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing asked President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, whether he thought unlawful border crossings into the U.S. “should remain a crime.” Garland said that he had not “thought about that question.”

Garland said that President Biden has been clear that the U.S. is a nation with borders and is concerned about national security. “I don’t know of a proposal to decriminalize but still make it unlawful to enter, I just don’t know the answer to that question, I haven’t thought about it,” he said.

Hawley, a Missouri Republican, then asked Garland whether he would carry on with prosecuting illegal border crossings.

“Well, this is again a question of allocation of resources,” Garland said. “The department will prevent unlawful crossing,” he said, noting that he does not “know what the current program even is with respect to this.” He said, “I assume that the answer would be yes,” though he does not “know what the issues…surrounding it are.”  

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When Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Garland during the hearing if he would “look into that practice of using asylum claims by drug cartels to weaken border security,” Garland said that he had not been aware of such an issue but that he would look into it.

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