President Joe Biden has called for a three-month suspension of the federal gasoline tax in response to the country’s soaring energy prices.
The average cost of a gallon of gas, or petrol, is hovering near $5, up from roughly $3 a year ago.
With national elections for Congress coming in November, President Biden is under pressure to respond.
Analysts say that removing the levy would have limited impact on household petrol and diesel costs.
Political support for the gas tax holiday, which would require an act of Congress, is also uncertain.
President Biden said policymakers should do what is in their power to try to ease the strain on families, calling on companies to pass on “every penny” in savings to the public.
“I fully understand that a gas tax holiday alone is not going to fix the problem,” he said.
“But it will provide families some immediate relief, just a little bit of breathing room as we continue working to bring down prices for the long haul”.
Currently, the US imposes a tax of roughly 18 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24 cents on diesel, using the money collected to help pay for highway infrastructure.
Eliminating the levy through September, as President Biden has proposed, would cost the government an estimated $10 billion.
The move is the latest effort from countries around the world to address the soaring energy costs.
Oil prices have surged since last year, as demand outstrips supplies constrained by cuts that many firms made after the pandemic hit in 2020 and prompted demand to crater.
As the war in Ukraine pushes Western countries to shun oil from Russia – a major energy producer – that has also contributed to the crunch.
The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers industry group said a gas tax holiday would provide “near-term relief but it won’t solve the root of the issue – the imbalance in supply and demand for petroleum products”.
President Biden has already taken steps like releasing unprecedented amounts of oil from national stockpiles and lifting taxes on imports of solar panels.
As well as suspending the national gasoline tax, President Biden is urging similar steps by state governments, which typically impose their own taxes, often higher than the federal government’s.
Some states, including New York, have already suspended those charges.
The president, who has intensified his criticism of oil and gas companies in recent weeks, also called on the industry to increase output and refining capacity, while directing some of his pleas to gas station owners across the country.
“These are not normal times,” he said, pointing to the war in Ukraine and noting that oil prices have retreated from earlier highs.
“Bring down the cost at the pump to reflect the price you are paying for the product. Do it now, do it today”.
The price of gasoline in the US is already lower than in many other countries.
The two legislators, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, are the only Republicans on a congressional select committee investigating the riots.
The statement by the Republican National Committee (RNC) accused Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of helping to persecute “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse”.
The RNC appeared to suggest rioters had been involved in legitimate political actions but RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel clarified that it was a reference to “legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol”.
According to recent reports, the vote was passed by an overwhelming majority of the 168 RNC members at their winter meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The committee said it would “immediately cease any and all support of them” as party members without removing them from the party.
Both lawmakers issued statements in advance of the vote.
“The leaders of the Republican Party have made themselves willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election and suggests he would pardon January 6 defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy,” Liz Cheney said.
They also received support from other opponents of Donald Trump in the party.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned President Joe Biden that imposing new sanctions over Ukraine could lead to a complete breakdown in relations.
In a phone call late on December 30, Vladimir Putin said such sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”.
President Biden, meanwhile, told Vladimir Putin that the US and its allies would respond decisively to any invasion of Ukraine.
The call, requested by Russia, was the pair’s second such conversation this month and lasted for almost an hour.
It marked the latest effort to defuse tensions over Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, where Ukrainian officials say more than 100,000 Russian troops have been sent.
The build-up has prompted concern in the West, with the US threatening Vladimir Putin with sanctions “like none he’s ever seen” if Ukraine comes under attack.
Russia, however, denies it is planning to invade Ukraine and says the troops are there for exercises. It says it is entitled to move its troops freely on its own soil.
Although the two sides exchanged warnings during the call, Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters shortly after that Vladimir Putin was “pleased” with the conversation. He added that it had created a “good backdrop” for future talks.
US and Russian officials are set to meet for in-person talks in Geneva next month, and the White House said President Biden urged his Russian counterpart to pursue a diplomatic solution.
In a holiday message before December 30 call, Vladimir Putin told Joe Biden he was “convinced” the pair could work together based on “mutual respect and consideration of each other’s national interests”.
His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow was “in the mood for a conversation”.
Ukraine’s defense minister told parliament at the start of December that Russia had massed tens of thousands of troops near the border, and could be gearing up for a large-scale military offensive at the end of January.
Russia has argued the military build-up at the border is a protective measure against NATO, the Western military alliance. It wants legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further east, and that certain weapons will not be sent to Ukraine or any neighboring countries.
The US has rejected what it styles as a Kremlin bid to control the future of independent countries.
Ukraine has not been offered NATO membership, but has close ties with the bloc.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine are nothing new. In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and soon after started to back a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east that has seen some 14,000 people killed in periodic fighting.
Washington and its European allies have warned Russia to expect severe economic sanctions if troops do cross into Ukraine again.
A caller has pranked President Joe Biden by dropping anti-Biden “Let’s go, Brandon” taunt into their chat during a White House Christmas event.
President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were hosting the festive call for families when a father told the president: “Let’s go, Brandon.”
Apparently unaware of the gibe, President Biden said he agreed.
The term, which has become a rallying cry for many conservatives, is code for a profane insult directed at Joe Biden.
The first couple were speaking virtually with children for a White House custom, tracking the journey of Santa’s sleigh via the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
During Christmas Eve’s event in the South Court Auditorium of the executive mansion, the Bidens spoke with a family from Oregon: Griffin, 11, Hunter, three, Piper, four, Penelope, two, and their father, Jared.
“I assume you’re dad,” the president said.
“Hi. Yes sir,” replied Jared.
“OK, Dad, what do you want for Christmas?” asked Presidnet Biden.
“Maybe a quiet night,” he replied laughing.
The president said: “You know, Dad, we have a Hunter, too. We have a son named Hunter and a grandson named Hunter.”
“I didn’t know you had a grandson named Hunter, that’s cool,” said Jared.
The president asked how old was Griffin.
“I’m 11,” Griffin said. He said he wanted a piano.
Jared interjected: “I was going to say he has to cut some trees down to get a piano!”
Hunter wanted a Nintendo Switch, Piper wanted a Barbie.
The president reminded the children to be in bed by nine o’clock otherwise Santa might not show up.
The first lady said: “Have a merry Christmas, have a wonderful Christmas.”
President Biden told Jared: “I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”
The father replied: “Yeah, I hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas as well. Merry Christmas and let’s go, Brandon.”
The president replied: “Let’s go, Brandon. I agree.”
There was silence.
President Biden added: “Hey, by the way, are you in Oregon? Where’s your home? I think we lost him.”
According to a recent Gallup poll, only 5% of voters who identify as Republican currently approve of the president’s performance.
That same poll shows President Biden’s overall approval rating has dipped to 43%.
How did ‘Let’s go, Brandon’ start?
It all began at the end of a televised Nascar stock car race in Talladega, Alabama, on October 2. NBC reporter Kelli Stavast was interviewing the winner, driver Brandon Brown, when members of the crowd in the grandstand behind them began chanting an obscenity directed at the president.
It was clearly picked up on the broadcast’s audio.
Whether by mistake or as an attempt to deflect from the swearing on live television, Kelli Stavast told Brandon Brown the crowd was cheering him on with chants of “Let’s go, Brandon.”
A newly declassified document that looks into connections between Saudi citizens in the US and two of the 9/11 attackers has been released by the FBI.
Relatives of victims have long urged the release of the files, arguing Saudi officials had advance knowledge but did not try to stop the attacks.
However, the document provides no evidence that the Saudi government was linked to the 9/11 plot.
Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Ahead of the declassification, the Saudi embassy in Washington welcomed the release and once again denied any link between the kingdom and the hijackers, describing such claims as “false and malicious”.
The 16-page FBI document was declassified on the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terror attacks on US soil – almost 3,000 people were killed after four planes were hijacked – and is the first of several expected to be released.
Some families of the victims had put pressure on President Joe Biden to declassify the documents, saying he should not attend this year’s commemoration ceremonies in New York if he was not prepared to release them.
The FBI document is still heavily redacted. It is based on interviews with a source whose identity is classified (listed as PII) and outlines contacts between a number of Saudi nationals and two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.
The hijackers posed as students to enter the US in 2000. The FBI memo says they then received significant logistical support from Omar al-Bayoumi, who witnesses said was a frequent visitor to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles despite his official status at the time as a student.
Omar al-Bayoumi, the source tells the FBI, had “very high status” at the consulate.
“Bayoumi’s assistance to Hamzi and Midha included translation, travel, lodging and financing,” the memo said.
The FBI document also says there were links between the two hijackers and Fahad al-Thumairy, a conservative imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles. He was described by sources as “having extremist beliefs”.
Both Omar al-Bayoumi and Fahad al- Thumairy left the US weeks before the 9/11 attacks, according to the AP.
The agency also quoted Jim Kreindler, a lawyer for the relatives of 9/11 victims, as saying that the released document did “validate the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks”.
Relatives of people who died on 9/11 have read out victims’ names, as America marks 20 years since the deadliest terror attacks on its soil.
Many struggled to hold back tears at the ceremony held at Ground Zero, the site of the Twin Towers destroyed in the attacks by al-Qaeda militants.
A minute’s silence was held at the exact time each hijacked plane crashed.
George W. Bush, who was the president at the time, gave a speech in Pennsylvania, where one of the planes crashed into a field after passengers overpowered the hijackers.
The official memorial started with a minute’s silence at 08:46 – the exact moment the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001.
All morning, roses continued to be placed beside the names of the 2,977 victims etched into the Ground Zero memorial.
There were five more moments of silence over the next few hours – marking the time when the second plane crashed into the South Tower, when a third jet struck the Pentagon just outside Washington DC, when the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, and finally when each tower collapsed.
The tributes will continue into the night, when two beams of light will shine 4 miles into the sky where the towers stood.
With thousands of names to read out, the list took hours to get through.
At the memorial in New York, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as former First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
President Biden traveled to all three attack sites on September 11 – New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In a video released on the eve of the anniversary, he paid tribute to the victims.
“No matter how much time has passed, these commemorations bring everything painfully back as if you just got the news a few seconds ago,” the president said.
VP Kamala Harris spoke in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after George W. Bush.
“We must challenge ourselves to look back, to remember, for the sake of our children… and for that reason, we must also look forward,” she said.
In the morning, former President Donald Trump released a video statement, praising first responders – and adding it was a “sad time for the way our war on those that did such harm to our country ended last week” – referring to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
However, Donald Trump planned to take part in something quite different later in the day – providing commentary for a boxing match in Florida with his eldest son, Donald Jr.
Other ceremonies included a vigil at the New York Fire Department’s memorial wall – a 56-foot bronze wall that honors the 343 firefighters who died on the day of the attacks.
In total, 441 first responders were killed, the largest loss of emergency personnel in US history.
At the Pentagon outside Washington, a dawn service was held.
Two pipers played Amazing Grace as a small group of military leaders looked on in solemnity, the building bathed in blue light.
A chapel of remembrance now marks the spot where American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the US defense building.
Family members of the 9/11 victims have called on President Joe Biden to stay away from memorial events unless he declassifies files about the attacks.
Nearly 1,800 people signed a letter calling on President Biden to release documents that they believe implicate officials from Saudi Arabia in the plot.
They say that if he refuses, the president should not attend ceremonies next month to commemorate the 20th anniversary.
Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11 terror attacks.
According to the investigators, the attacks were committed by the Al Qaeda terror group and triggered the US invasion of Afghanistan. Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers were Saudi nationals.
“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfils his commitment,” says the letter from family members, first responders and survivors.
They call on President Biden to stay away from the three sites where the attacks took place – in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The families have long argued that Saudi officials had advance knowledge of the attack, and did nothing to stop it. They have sued the government of Saudi Arabia, which has denied being involved.
Last month, the lawsuit saw several top former Saudi officials questioned under oath. The depositions remain sealed, further upsetting families.
“Since the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 much investigative evidence has been uncovered implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks,” the families’ statement continues.
“Through multiple administrations, the Department of Justice and the FBI have actively sought to keep this information secret and prevent the American people from learning the full truth about the 9/11 attacks.”
The administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump also declined to declassify the documents, citing national security concerns.
“Twenty years later, there is simply no reason – unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise – to keep this information secret,” the group writes.
“But if President Biden reneges on his commitment and sides with the Saudi government, we would be compelled to publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11.”
The Biden administration is also targeting a number of other sectors with the order.
It encourages other government agencies to take action to improve competition across healthcare, travel and agriculture.
Once fully implemented, it would allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, for example, as well as the ban of early exit fees from internet contracts. It also intends to make it easier for consumers to claim refunds from airlines.
President Biden said that the order seeks to limit the use of “non-compete agreements” as a condition of getting a job, which he claimed can make it harder for people to change jobs and therefore limits wages.
The executive order alone, however, does not mean these recommendations will come into force immediately.
The government agencies responsible will need to implement the changes, while some elements could be subject to court challenges.
The US Chamber of Commerce criticized the order, saying it was “built on the flawed belief that our economy is over-concentrated, stagnant and fails to generate private investment needed to spur innovation”.
It comes weeks after the House Judiciary Committee also voted to approve a series anti-trust bills, which could eventually become law and force big tech firms to transform or even break up their businesses.
Catholic bishops face clash with President Joe Biden after voting to commission a document that may call for him to be barred from Holy Communion.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) clashed online over whether to draw up a teaching document on politicians who support abortion.
Holy Communion is the most important ritual in the Catholic Christian faith.
The Catholic president regularly attends Mass.
Responding to news of the bishops’ vote, President Biden said: “That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
The Vatican has already indicated its opposition to the bishops’ move.
After the debate on June 17, the Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, vice-president of the USCCB, announced the move had passed by 168 to 55, with six abstentions.
The US clergy is deeply divided on the issue. The Most Rev Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, warned such a document would lead to the “weaponization” of the Eucharist (the more formal name for Holy Communion).
However, the Most Rev Liam Cary, the bishop of Baker, Oregon, said the Church was in an “unprecedented situation”, with “a Catholic president who is opposed to the teaching” of the Church.
The document will now be drafted by the doctrine committee of US bishops.
However, although it will be a form of national policy, it will not be binding. Each individual bishop has the right to decide who should be blocked from the Mass in his diocese.
The document will return for debate at the next bi-annual US Catholic Bishops Conference in November.
The controversial issue of whether politicians who support abortion should receive Mass has become more prominent with the election of Joe Biden as president.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, warned most priests would be “puzzled to hear that bishops now want to talk about excluding people at a time when the real challenge before them is welcoming people back to the regular practice of the faith and rebuilding their communities”.
However, proposing the motion, Bishop Kevin Roades, of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said: “We weren’t targeting particular individuals or limited to one issue, but I think we need to accept the [Church’s] discipline that those who obstinately persist in grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Cardinal Luis Ladaria – the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s theological watchdog – urged the US Catholic Bishops Conference to delay the debate.
He wrote to the conference saying it would be “misleading” to suggest abortion and euthanasia were “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics”.
Catholics for Choice, an abortion rights group, said it was profoundly saddened by the move.
China has accused the G7 of “political manipulation” after it criticized Beijing over a range of issues.
In a joint statement at the end of a three-day summit, G7 leaders urged China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
Issues highlighted included abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority group and the crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.
China’s embassy in the UK accused the G7 of “baseless accusations”.
The statement by the G7 – the world’s seven largest so-called advanced economies – included pledges on a number of issues, such as ending the coronavirus pandemic and steps to tackle climate change, as well as references to China.
The G7 group, made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, called on China to respect human rights in Xinjiang, a north-western region that is home to the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
The G7 statement also called for rights and freedoms to be respected in Hong Kong. The leaders said Hong Kong should retain a “high degree of autonomy”, as established under agreements when it was handed back to China in 1997.
The statement underscored the “importance of peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait – a heavily-policed waterway that separates China and Taiwan. China sees democratic Taiwan as a breakaway province, but Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state.
It also demanded a new investigation in China into the origins of Covid-19.
President Joe Biden said he was “satisfied” with the statement’s language on China.
A stronger message on China is expected to be issued by leaders of the NATO military alliance at a meeting on June 14.
“We know that China does not share our values… we need to respond together as an alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said as he arrived at the one-day summit in Brussels.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the country would feature in NATO’s communiqué “in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before”.
President Joe Biden has ordered intelligence officials to “redouble” efforts to investigate the origins of Covid-19, including the theory that it came from a laboratory in China.
The president said the US intelligence community was split on whether it came from a lab accident or emerged from human contact with an infected animal.
He asked the groups to report back to him within 90 days.
China has rejected the laboratory theory.
“Smear campaigns and blame shifting are making a comeback, and the conspiracy theory of ‘lab leak’ is resurfacing,” its embassy in the US said in a statement on May 27.
Since it was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, more than 168 million cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed worldwide and at least 3.5 million deaths reported.
Authorities linked early Covid cases to a seafood market in Wuhan, leading scientists to theorize the virus first passed to humans from animals.
However, recent media reports have suggested growing evidence the virus could instead have emerged from a laboratory in China, perhaps through an accidental leak.
In a statement on May 26, President Biden said he had asked for a report on the origins of Covid-19 after taking office, “including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident”.
On receiving it this month, he asked for “additional follow-up”.
President Biden said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two scenarios, but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other”.
He has now asked agencies to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion”.
President Biden concluded by saying the US would “keep working with like-minded partners around the world to press China to participate in a full, transparent, evidence-based international investigation”.
Beijing has previously suggested Covid-19 could have come from a US laboratory instead.
In its statement, the Chinese embassy said it supported a full investigation into “some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world”.
On May 27, on spokesman for China’s foreign ministry hit out at the “dark history” of the US intelligence community, and said the Biden administration’s “motive and purposes” were clear.
President Biden’s statement came as CNN reported that the president’s administration this spring shut down a state department investigation into whether the virus could have leaked from a Wuhan lab, deeming the probe an ineffective use of resources.
Speculation about the Wuhan Institute of Virology – one of China’s top virus research labs – began in 2020 and was propagated by President Donald Trump.
In April 2020, State Department cables came to light that showed embassy officials were worried about biosecurity at the lab.
The leak allegations were widely dismissed as a fringe conspiracy theory.
Earlier this year, the WHO issued a report written jointly with Chinese scientists on the origins of Covid-19 which said the chances of it having started in a lab were “extremely unlikely”.
The WHO report said the virus had probably jumped from bats to humans via another intermediary animal, but more research was needed.
However, questions have persisted and recent reports attributed to US intelligence sources say three members of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were admitted to hospital in November 2019, several weeks before China acknowledged the first case of the new disease in the community.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, has maintained he believes the virus was passed from animals to humans, though he conceded this month he was no longer confident Covid-19 had developed naturally.
President Biden’s statement came the day after Xavier Becerra, US secretary for health and human services, urged the WHO to ensure a “transparent” investigation into the virus’s origins.
The US has already announced that it will provide raw materials for Indian vaccine manufacturers as the country battles a devastating surge in cases.
In a “warm and positive” phone call with Indian PM Narendra Modi on April 26, President Biden promised more emergency assistance “including oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials and therapeutics”, a White House statement said.
Washington is also looking at supplying oxygen, Covid tests, personal protective equipment (PPE) and the antiviral drug remdesivir to India’s health service.
The FDA has so far authorized three vaccines against Covid- 19: Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). Experts say it looks likely that these will provide all the country’s needs and the AstraZeneca jab may not be needed.
According to the latest figures, more than 53% of adults in the US have so far received at least one dose of vaccine.
President Joe Biden has called for trillions in spending aimed at re-igniting America’s economic growth by upgrading its crumbling infrastructure and tackling climate change.
The $2.3 trillion proposal would direct billions to initiatives such as charging stations for electric vehicles and eliminating lead water pipes.
The spending would be partially offset by raising taxes on businesses.
Those plans have already roused fierce opposition.
Republicans have called the rises “a recipe for stagnation and decline”, while powerful business lobby groups including the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce said they supported investments but would oppose tax increases.
The pushback is a sign of the tough fight ahead for the plan, which needs approval from Congress.
The White House has promoted its proposal as the most ambitious public spending in decades, saying the investments are necessary to keep the US economy growing and competitive with other countries, especially China.
In a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 31, President Biden said: “This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges.
“It’s a once in a generation investment in America.”
The plan calls for investing more than $600 billion in infrastructure, including modernizing roads, replacing rail cars and buses and repairing crumbling bridges.
Billions more would be devoted to initiatives like improving veterans hospitals, upgrading affordable housing, expanding high-speed broadband, and providing incentives for manufacturing and technology research.
It calls for money to be directed to rural communities and communities of color, including establishing a national climate-focused laboratory affiliated with an historically black university.
The spending, which would have to be approved by Congress, would roll out over eight years.
The White House said tax increases would offset the cost over 15 years.
President Biden called for raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, a move that would partially undo cuts the US passed in 2017. He also proposed raising the minimum rate charged for overseas profits.
In his speech, in an acknowledgment such plans are likely to face, the president said he was also “open to other ideas” when it came to paying for the spending.
“Failing to make these investments adds to our debt and effectively puts our children at a disadvantage relative to our competitors,” he said.
“The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”
President Biden’s proposal – which closely resembles promises he made during last year’s election campaign – comes just weeks after Democrats muscled through $1.9 trillion more in aid to address the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic, approving that package without Republican support.
It’s not clear yet how much of President Biden’s latest plan will make it through Congress – or how much of another spending package focused on areas such as childcare and education that he plans to unveil in coming weeks.
North Korea has claimed the missiles it launched on March 25 were a “new-type tactical guided projectile”, in its first statement since the test.
It was the country’s first ballistic launch in almost a year and the first since Joe Biden became US President.
President Biden has said the US will “respond accordingly”. The US, Japan and South Korea have condemned the tests.
Under UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles.
North Korea’s statement on March 26, issued through state media outlet KCNA, says the two weapons struck a test target 373 miles off North Korea’s east coast, disputing Japanese assessments that they flew just over 240 miles.
It added that the new missile is able to carry a payload of 2.5 tons, which would make it capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
“The development of this weapon system is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats,” Ri Pyong Chol, the senior leader who oversaw the test, was quoted as saying.
President Biden told reporters that the launch was a violation of UN resolutions and that the US was consulting with partners and allies.
“There will be responses – if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly,” he said.
“But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
It remains unclear what exact type of missile the North Koreans have launched. State media said it had an “improved version of a solid fuel engine” and described it as a tactical guided missile that could perform “gliding and pull-up” maneuvers, which could mean it is harder to intercept.
However, the test highlights the progress North Korea’s weapons program has seen since denuclearization talks with the US stalled under former President Donald Trump.
Analysts have suggested the missiles were the same as the ones unveiled at a military parade in the capital Pyongyang in October 2020.
“If that is the case, they appear to have an improved variant of the previously tested KN-23 missile with a really big warhead,” Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) told Reuters.
Such a new missile would allow North Korea to put heavier nuclear warheads on its rockets, Vipin Narang, a security studies professor at MIT said on Twitter.
Developing miniaturized nuclear warheads is difficult, although some observers believe that North Korea has this capability already.
North Korea last fired ballistic missiles a year ago amid stalled relations between then-US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The Biden administration says it has unsuccessfully tried to make diplomatic contact with North Korea.
North Korea has yet to acknowledge that Joe Biden is now in office, and the two countries remain at loggerheads over the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Bill Nelson was a driving force behind NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which was conceived in the wake of an Obama-era overhaul of the US space program.
He will succeed Jim Bridenstine, who led the agency for almost three years under the Trump administration.
Jim Bridenstine earned widespread praise for his efforts to promote NASA programs – in particular, its Artemis venture, which will see astronauts return to the Moon in the 2020s before mounting a mission to Mars.
Bill Nelson was among those who initially criticized Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation in 2018, saying: “The administrator must be a leader who has the ability to bring us together… on a shared vision for future space exploration.”
The Oklahoma Congressman had no formal qualifications in science and engineering, and there were concerns he would politicize the non-partisan agency.
However, following Jim Bridenstine’s successful tenure at NASA, the Biden administration has opted to appoint another politician as the agency’s head – albeit a former astronaut with a long history of working on space issues.
Bill Nelson served in Florida’s state legislature during the 1970s, representing the district that’s home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
After his election to the House of Representatives in 1978, he became the second sitting member of Congress to travel into space when he flew as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986.
After he won election to the Senate in Florida in 2000, Bill Nelson continued to be closely involved in formulating space policy.
He lost his last re-election bid and his Senate term ended in 2019.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9tn Covid-19 relief plan was approved in the Senate on March 6 despite every Republican senator voting against.
This is President Biden’s third major relief bill aimed at helping Americans deal with the impact of the coronavirus.
The House of Representatives – controlled by Democrats – is expected to approve it on March 9.
President Biden described the Senate vote as “one more giant step forward” in delivering the promise to help people.
America’s worst public health crisis in a century has left nearly 523,000 people dead and 29 million infected, with a current unemployment rate of 6.2%.
The package envisages one-off payments worth $1,400 to be sent to most Americans.
Republicans, who have criticized President Biden’s plan as too costly, forced a number of compromises, notably the lowering of federal unemployment benefit from $400 to $300 a week. The benefit would be extended until September 6 under the plan.
The president said: “It obviously wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was so desperately needed, urgently needed.”
He added he hoped for a quick passage of the bill in the House so that he could sign it into law.
The so-called American Rescue Plan allocates $350 billion to state and local governments, and some $130 billion to schools.
It would also provide $49 billion for expanded Covid-19 testing and research, as well as $14 billion for vaccine distribution.
The $1,400 stimulus cheques will be quickly phased out for those with higher incomes – at $75,000 for a single person and for couples making more than $150,000.
The extension of jobless benefits until September, meanwhile, would mark a key reprieve for millions of long-term unemployed Americans whose eligibility for benefits is currently due to expire in mid-March.
The bill also includes grants for small businesses as well as more targeted funds: $25 billion for restaurants and bars; $15 billion for airlines and another $8 billion for airports; $30 billion for transit; $1.5 billion for Amtrak rail and $3 billion for aerospace manufacturing.
While Republicans broadly backed two previous stimulus plans, passed when they controlled both the White House and the Senate under President Donald Trump, they have criticized the cost of President Biden’s bill.
There was a marathon 27-hour session before the final vote on March 6, and the 50-49 tally along party lines was indicative of the widespread Republican opposition.
The even split between the parties in the Senate meant that every Democratic senator needed to support the party’s plans.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan to help Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic has been approved in the House of Representatives.
The vote was along partisan lines. Two Democrats joined Republicans – who see it as too expensive – in opposing it.
The relief bill must now go to the evenly-divided Senate, which has already blocked a key element – doubling the US minimum wage to $15/hour.
The Covid-19 relief package seeks to boost vaccinations and testing, and stabilize the economy.
The cash would be extended as emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state governments. Unemployment is close to 10%, with some 10 million jobs lost in the pandemic.
The vote comes in the same week the United States passed 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths – the largest figure of any nation in the world.
In brief remarks at the White House on February 26, President Biden hailed the House’s approval of the plan, saying he hoped it would receive “quick action” at the Senate.
He said: “We have no time to waste.
“If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again. And the people in this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering.”
Joe Biden had appealed for bipartisan unity when he took office last month.
He has championed what he calls the American Rescue Plan as a way to help struggling Americans through Covid-19.
However, Republicans say the plan is unnecessarily large and stuffed with Democratic priorities unrelated to the pandemic.
The divisions were reflected by the representatives.
The bill is the third major spending package of the pandemic, and actually not quite as big as President Donald Trump’s $2trillion last March.
A $1,400 cheque per person, although payments phase out for higher incomes
Extending jobless benefits until the end of August to help the more than 11 million long-term unemployed
Parents of children under the age of 18 to get a year of monthly benefits
$70 billion to boost Covid-19 testing and vaccinations
Financial support for schools and universities to help them reopen
Grants for small businesses and other targeted industries
Funds for local government
One of the other major elements is the increase of the minimum wage from $7.25/hour – where it has been since 2009 – to $15.
On February 25, Elizabeth MacDonough, the non-partisan Senate parliamentarian – who interprets its rules – said that raising the minimum wage would violate the budgetary limits allowed in this kind of measure.
The bill that passed in the House does still include the increase and it remains unclear how the issue can be resolved.
The minimum wage rise remains a key Democrat goal, particularly for the party’s progressive wing, and some top Democrats are considering a measure to penalize employers who pay less than $15/hour.
Republicans argue the minimum wage increase would be too heavy a toll on firms struggling to rebuild following the Covid-19 outbreak.
The package goes to the Senate – spilt evenly between Democrats and Republicans 50-50 – probably next week. The rules of the Senate do allow a reconciliation bill like this to be passed on a simple majority, rather than 60-40.
President Joe Biden has addressed the nation as the United States passed 500,000 Covid-related deaths, the highest number of any country.
He said: “As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow.”
The president and vice-president, and their spouses, then observed a moment of silence outside the White House during a candle-lighting ceremony.
According to recent reports, the number of confirmed US infections now stands at 28.1 million, also a global record.
President Biden ordered all flags on federal property to be lowered to half mast for the next five days.
At the White House, the president opened his speech by noting that the number of American deaths from Covid-19 was higher than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined.
He said: “Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone – 500,071 dead.”
“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans,” President Biden went on to say.
“There’s no such thing, there’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, emigrated to America.”
“So many of them took their final breath alone in America.”
President Biden drew on his own experience with grief – his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972 and one of his sons died from brain cancer in 2015.
He said: “I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens. I know what it’s like when you are there holding their hands; there’s a look in their eye and they slip away.
“For me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose.”
Joe Biden’s approach to the pandemic is different to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who cast doubt on the impact of the deadly virus and was viewed as having politicized the wearing of masks and other measures needed to prevent the spread of the virus.
On January 19, one day before Joe Biden took office, he held an event to mark 400,000 Americans dying of the disease.
February 22 event, marking the latest death toll, comes about one month later.
Elsewhere in Washington, the bells at the National Cathedral tolled 500 times, once for every 1,000 Americans lost during the pandemic.
President Joe Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas, clearing the way for more federal funds to be spent on relief efforts in the state.
Power is returning across Texas and temperatures are set to rise, but some 13 million people are still facing difficulties accessing clean water.
President Biden has said he will visit Texas as long as his presence is not a burden on relief efforts.
Nearly 60 deaths have been attributed to cold weather across the US.
In a statement released by the White House, President Biden said he had “ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms”.
“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” the statement said.
President Biden has been in touch with the mayors of some of Texas’ biggest cities, such as Houston, Austin and Dallas, to ensure they have access to government resources, an administration official said.
Several other southern states hit by snow and ice storms this week have also reported water service outages.
Winter weather has also cut off water in the city of Jackson, Mississippi – home to around 150,000 people – as well as the largest county in Tennessee that includes the city of Memphis, with more than 651,000 residents.
Across the South, a region unaccustomed to such frigid temperatures, people whose pipes have frozen have taken to boiling snow to make water.
Texas’s energy grid has been overwhelmed by a surge in demand for heat as temperatures plummeted to 30-year lows, hitting 0F earlier this week.
As of February 19, about 180,000 homes and businesses in Texas still had no electricity. Amid freezing temperatures earlier this week, as many as 3.3 million were without power.
Around 13 million people – close to half of Texas population – have faced some disruption of water services as hundreds of water systems have been damaged by the freeze.
Austin lost 325 million gallons of water when pipes burst, the city’s water director told reporters on February 18.
Texas’ largest city, Houston, is under a so-called “boil water notice”, with the CDC advising that all water planned for consumption – even if filtered – must be boiled as it may be contaminated.
Officials there say they are working to rapidly distribute bottled water, as well as power generators, to people in need. Breweries and other local businesses have also assisted with efforts to supply drinkable water.
On February 19, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the state was providing “any and all resources to assist and to accelerate the response at the local level”.
State officials could not offer a timeline for exactly when the water would come back on, saying it was a question for local water providers – and many have not yet fully assessed the damage to their systems.
Governor Abbott also said more plumbers are headed to the state. Water pipes have been bursting across Texas due to the freeze, and local plumbers have struggled to meet demand.
Over 320 plumbers have renewed their licenses, and the state agencies are working with out-of-state plumbing companies to secure additional help, he said.
As of February 19, storm warnings are still in place across much of Texas, but temperatures will rise in the coming days, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
The forecaster has also warned of dangerous travel conditions and power outages in eastern parts of the US as another winter storm system is expected to bring heavy snow, freezing rain and ice.
According to the Associated Press, the Biden administration plans to start with two border crossings each processing up to 300 people a day and a third crossing taking fewer numbers.
The authorities say asylum seekers will be released with notices to appear in court in cities close to or in their final destinations, typically with family.
At the same time, Alejandro Mayorkas stressed that “individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border”, amid concerns that many people would try to cross the border illegally.
February 12 announcement was welcomed in a sprawling migrant camp in the Mexican city of Matamoros, just across the border from Texas.
The border cities where migrants wait for months are suffering from growing crime rates.
In 2020, charity Human Rights First said “returned families, children and adults are being sent to highly dangerous situations where many suffered kidnappings, attacks, sexual assaults, threats and other incredible cruelty”.
An emergency declaration allows US presidents to circumvent the usual political process and to access military funding.
Various types of fencing totaling 654 miles were already in place before Donald Trump became president in 2017.
During his time in office, 80 miles of new barriers were built where there were none before, and almost 400 miles replaced existing parts of the structure.
Former Trump campaign advisor Jason Miller took to Twitter to comment on the decision, writing “Biden loves illegal immigration”.
However, some parts of the Trump administration’s immigration policy will be left in place.
At a press conference on February 10, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to confirm the new administration would keep a Trump-era policy that allowed border officials to summarily expel undocumented immigrants amid the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “Due to the pandemic and the fact that we have not had the time, as an administration, to put in place a humane, comprehensive process for processing individuals who are coming to the border.
“Now is not the time to come, and the vast majority of people will be turned away.”
President Joe Biden has raised election meddling in his first call with Russian Vladimir Putin, the White House says.
The phone conversation also included a discussion about the ongoing opposition protests in Russia.
A Kremlin statement did not refer to any points of friction, saying the call was “businesslike and frank”.
Both sides reportedly agreed to extend the countries’ last remaining nuclear deal during the call.
Former President Donald Trump sometimes undercut his own administration’s tough posture on Russia and was accused by some of being too deferential to Vladimir Putin.
However, Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama – under whom Joe Biden served as vice-president – was also criticized for failing to check Russia as it annexed Crimea, supported rebel forces in eastern Ukraine and backed the government of war-torn Syria.
The White House said in a statement: “President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”
The two presidents also discussed the massive SolarWinds cyber-attack, which has been blamed on Moscow; reports that the Kremlin placed bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan; and the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
According to the Kremlin statement, the Russian president had “noted that the normalization of relations between Russia and the United States would meet the interests of both countries and – taking into account their special responsibility for maintaining security and stability in the world – of the entire international community”.
Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin also discussed the New Start treaty, an Obama-era accord that limits the amounts of warheads, missiles and launchers in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.
The treaty had been due to expire on February 5, but both sides reportedly agreed to extend the treaty during January 26 call.
The Trump administration, however, had refused to sign it and talks over an extension stalled.
On January 27, the Russian parliament ratified a five-year extension of the treaty. President Putin said the move was a “step in the right direction” to reducing global tensions.
The Trump administration’s rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine calling it “chaotic” and “very limited”, President Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain has said.
Ron Klain said there was no plan in the federal government for the distribution of vaccines across the United States.
President Joe Biden, who took office on January 20, has promised 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days.
The US has now reported more than 25 million Covid-19 cases.
About 417,500 deaths have been linked to the new coronavirus. In recent weeks, the daily number of Covid-linked deaths in the US has, on some days, exceeded 4,000.
President Biden signed a raft of new measures last week, including boosting vaccinations and testing. He has urged Americans to wear masks and warned that the death toll could get much worse.
His efforts follow widespread criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic and of the vaccination program.
Vaccines have been distributed to states, and states and cities are carrying out the inoculations. But some have complained they are struggling with supply.
According to the CDC, about 41 million doses had been distributed by January 23 across the country, but only 20.5 million had been administered.
Speaking to NBC News, Ron Klain said: “The process to distribute the vaccine, particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House.”
He said it was a “complex” process but that the Biden administration would set up federal vaccination sites to help states without enough places.
Covid- 19 infections have spiraled in recent months – with a jump in new infections after Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Hospital numbers hit their highest levels during the pandemic earlier this month but are slowly starting to drop alongside daily cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on January 21 that rolling average data appeared to show infections leveling off.
Although the national picture has stabilized slightly, he warned the country remained in a “very serious situation”.
The CDC is particularly concerned that new variants could accelerate the virus spread.
The strain has been detected in 20 states, Dr. Fauci said January 21, but warned the country had “limited ability” to track its spread through the population.
President Biden has already enacted a raft of executive measures to combat the virus and he wants Congress to pass a $1.9tn package of economic relief funding.
He is hoping to get bipartisan approval for his broad stimulus agenda, but the proposal has already been met with skepticism and resistance by some Republicans.
Another one of the new president’s key promises is to oversee 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, but some have criticized this policy as not ambitious enough.
The current approved suppliers – Moderna and Pfizer – have pledged to deliver 200 million doses by March. Dr. Fauci has also suggested emergency approval of a third vaccine, a single-dose jab by Johnson & Johnson, could be just weeks away.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was appointed chief medical adviser by the new president, has expressed hope that if 70-85% of the US population is vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could “approach a degree of normality” by autumn.
President Joe Biden will sign 10 executive orders to boost the fight against Covid-19 which has ravaged the United States.
Vaccination will be accelerated and testing increased. Emergency legislation will be used to increase production of essentials like masks.
In a break with former President Donald Trump, the policy stresses a national strategy rather than relying on states to decide what is best.
The moves come a day after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president.
The Trump administration was widely accused of failing to get to grips with the pandemic.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the US is the worst-hit country with more than 406,000 lives lost to Covid-19. Nearly 24.5 million have been infected.
In his inauguration speech, Joe Biden warned that the coronavirus pandemic in the US was entering its “deadliest period”.
The president’s Covid-19 task force co-ordinator, Jeff Zients, told reporters that under President Trump there was no strategy at federal level and a comprehensive approach was lacking.
He said: “As President Biden steps into office today, that all changes.”
The Biden administration unveiled a seven-point plan which included efforts to facilitate effective distribution of vaccines and reliable access to testing.
On top of the already announced rules on wearing masks and social distancing on all federal government property, face coverings will become mandatory on many planes and trains.
Jeff Zients said: “What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined.”
In a further break with the previous administration, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, said the US would join the Covax scheme designed to deliver Covid vaccines to poor countries.
Speaking by video call to the WHO in Geneva, Dr. Anthony Fauci also stressed that the US would continue to provide funding for the WHO, in line with President Biden’s move to reverse Donald Trump’s decision to leave.
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