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D.C. Memo: Smith asks Biden to ignore GOP and use 14th Amendment to avoid debt limit crisis

Plus: Klobuchar focuses on AI in politics and SCOTUS sides with Prince photographer over Warhol depiction of the Purple One (or orange in this case).

Sen. Tina Smith
Sen. Tina Smith, joined by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Edward Markey and Jeff Merkley, signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to avoid a calamitous default.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

WASHINGTON — With time running out for the nation to avoid defaulting on its debts, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., joined four other Senate progressives this week in promoting a plan to pay the nation’s bills that would bypass congressional Republicans – and Congress as a whole.

The senators have signed a letter urging President Biden to invoke the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to avoid a calamitous default, which could come as soon as June 1 if Congress does not authorize another hike in the nation’s debt ceiling. The 14th Amendment says “the validity of the public debt, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.”

Smith tweeted late Wednesday that “President Biden should be ready to ‘break glass in case of emergency’ and invoke the 14th Amendment to prevent default.”

The move to push Biden to act unilaterally comes as progressive Democrats in the House and Senate are increasingly concerned about the direction of negotiations on an agreement to cut the deficit and raise the debt limit. Top aides to Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are negotiating directly, with House Republicans insisting on cuts to domestic programs and an extension of Trump-era tax cuts, which Democrats say favor the wealthy.

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“It is unfortunate that Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate are not acting in good faith. Instead, Republicans have made it clear that they are prepared to hold our entire economy hostage unless you accede to their demands to reduce the deficit on the backs of working families. That is simply unacceptable,” the letter said. “We agree with you that the United States must not default and that no one should be allowed to hold the economy hostage.”

Besides Smith, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon were the original signers of the letter, which attracted the support of an additional six Senate Democrats on Thursday.

The letter said if the House Republican “Limit, Save, Grow Act,” a bill the House GOP approved as a starting point to negotiations, were adopted “the damage done to our country would be incalculable,” pushing 780,000 Americans out of their jobs and the U.S. economy towards a recession.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders, including Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-6th District, insist there be spending cuts before the nation pays debt generated by past federal spending and Trump-era tax cuts.

“Bipartisan compromise that reins in federal spending can address the twin threats of high inflation and lack of access to credit imperiling small businesses and their hiring plans. Let’s get this done, Mr. President. Americans are counting on it,” Emmer tweeted this week.

Senate aims to tackle AI

In a usually polarized Congress, there was bipartisan support for tougher regulation and greater disclosure of the use of artificial intelligence at a Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

Most lawmakers on the committee, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., agreed there has to be strong guardrails to safeguard Americans from what is expected to be a huge wave of disinformation as artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent. Lawmakers were concerned about the likelihood of bias, loss of privacy and potential job losses for those who can be replaced by AI algorithms.

Having failed to do so before the explosion of social media, lawmakers are trying to create rules for AI as the technology becomes more popular, especially with the emergence of tools such as ChatGPT.

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“Congress failed to meet the moment on social media. Now we have the obligation to do it on AI before the threats and the risks become real,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Klobuchar is focused on misinformation in the political sphere, especially when it comes to elections. Besides the harm AI could do by faking images of politicians in campaign ads, Klobuchar said she is concerned about misinformation about polling places and election rules. She said she and her staff on the Senate Rules Committee asked ChatGPT to develop a tweet after being told there were long lines at a polling place in Bloomington, Minn. They asked ChatGPT where voters should go.

“The tweet that was created was a completely fake thing – go to 1234 Elm Street,” Klobuchar said.

Witness Samuel Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which released ChatGPT, assured Klobuchar “we are quite concerned about the impact AI could have on the election.”

Altman said “regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models.”

For her part, Klobuchar has sponsored a bill called the REAL Political Ads Act, which would require a disclaimer on political ads for federal campaigns that use content generated by artificial intelligence.

“We need to get ahead of this because elections are upon us,” Klobuchar told MinnPost.

At the hearing on artificial intelligence, Klobuchar said she asked ChatGPT to identify the most creative song artists of all time. The answer was that two Minnesota artists, Prince and Bob Dylan, were both in the top three. She did not identify the third artist determined by AI to be in the top three.

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More about Prince

The Supreme Court this week ruled that Andy Warhol infringed on a photographer’s copyright when he created a series of silk screens based on a photograph of Prince, who died in 2016.

Orange Prince (1984)
Orange Prince (1984)
In a 7-2 decision, the high court rejected arguments the Andy Warhol Foundation that Warhol, who died in 1987, had transformed the photographic image enough so it would not trigger copyright concerns.

At issue was the “fair use” doctrine, which allows the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works under certain circumstances.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the majority opinion, said “fair use” should not apply to an image Warhol created and called the “Orange Prince.”

Sotomayor said the photo taken by photographer Lynn Goldsmith and Warhol’s silk screen are used to depict Prince in magazine stories and share “substantially the same purpose,” even if Warhol altered the artist’s expression.