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Joe Biden

Top Democratic fundraiser George Clooney has issued a damning call for Joe Biden to quit the presidential race, hours after senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi swerved questions about whether he should continue.

George Clooney said that the president had won many battles in his career, “but the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time”.

His comments came after Nancy Pelosi, the former House Speaker, joined growing disquiet in the party, saying that time was “running short” for Joe Biden to decide whether to stay in the race against Donald Trump after his disastrous debate.

President Biden has stated, repeatedly, that he is determined to remain as the Democratic party’s candidate and beat Donald Trump in November.

George Clooney wrote in The New York Times that it was “devastating to say it” but the Mr Biden he met at a fundraising event three weeks ago was not the “‘Joe ‘big ****ing deal’ Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020.”

“He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate,” the actor said.

Image source: Wikimedia

Biden-Trump 1st Debate Wraps Ahead of Donald Trump Immunity Ruling

The fundraising event, held in Los Angeles, brought in a single-night record of roughly $30 million for the Biden campaign.

“Our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw.”

“This is about age. Nothing more,” he continued. “We are not going to win in November with this president.”

George Clooney added that his concerns matched those of “every” member of Congress he had spoken to.

Asked to respond, Joe Biden’s campaign referred to a letter the president sent Democrats in Congress that said he was “firmly committed” to his candidacy and beating Donald Trump.

Yet public dissent continues to grow within Joe Biden’s party as he faces scrutiny while hosting the NATO summit in Washington.

Nancy Pelosi, still one of the most powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill, on July 10 appeared to disregard Joe Biden’s insistence that he was determined to continue.

When asked if he should stay in the election race, she told MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “I want him to do whatever he decides to do.”

“It’s up to the president to decide if he’s going to run. We are all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short.”

A Biden campaign spokesperson referred to Nancy Pelosi’s comments on July 9, in which she said that she had “always been committed” to the president.

Around a dozen elected Democrats have suggested he abandon his campaign since his June 27 debate with Donald Trump.

On July 9, Michael Bennet of Colorado became the first Democratic senator to publicly dissent.

Although he did not call for Joe Biden to quit outright, he said Donald Trump would win the election, possibly by a “landslide”.

Pat Ryan, a congressman from New York, later wrote on X: “For the good of our country, for my two young kids, I’m asking Joe Biden to step aside.”

Overall support from elected Democrats remains robust, however.

Gavin Newsom, the California governor who was named by George Clooney as a potential replacement, said he was still “all in” with Joe Biden.

The Congressional Black Caucus, a group of roughly 60 politicians, and newer House members like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, have publicly backed him.

President Joe Biden has assured Democrat donors that he can still win November’s presidential election against Donald Trump, after a poor debate performance fuelled concern about his candidacy.

Joe Biden, 81, attended a series of fundraising events in New York and New Jersey on June 29, and defended his performance in CNN’s Presidential Debate.

Speaking at one event, President Biden admitted: “I didn’t have a great night, but neither did Trump.”

“I promise you we’re going to win this election,” he said.

Joe Biden’s debate performance was marked by hard-to-follow and shaky answers – raising fresh fears among some Democrats over whether he is the right candidate to contest this high-stakes election.

The Biden campaign accepted that the debate had not gone as they had hoped, but said he would not step aside for another nominee.

Photo AP

Campaign chairwoman Jennifer O’Malley Dillon said on June 29 that internal post-debate polling showed “voters’ opinions were not changed”.

Former President Barack Obama, a close friend of Joe Biden, said on social media that “bad debate nights happen”.

“This election is still a choice between someone who fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself,” Barack Obama wrote.

Hours after the debate, Donald Trump told his supporters that he considered the debate a “big victory” for his campaign.

“Joe Biden’s problem is not his age,” the 78-year-old Trump said.

“It’s his competence. He’s grossly incompetent.”

A post-debate poll by liberal pollster Data for Progress found that 62% of likely voters who watched or read about the debate found Donald Trump won. Only 30% of those polled said Joe Biden won the debate.

Until further polling is conducted, fundraising could be another indication of continued enthusiasm for Joe Biden’s candidacy.

In a memo, chairwoman Jennifer O’Malley Dillon said the campaign had raised more than $27 million from June 27 to June 28.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5CVZHAjrW8

President Joe Biden gave a stumbling performance in a 90-minute showdown with Donald Trump – the first televised debate of the 2024 presidential election campaign.

Democrats expressed concern at the president’s performance – with party insiders saying his early answers triggered panic.

While Republican candidate Donald Trump faces criticism for the number of falsehoods he uttered, much of the attention has been focused on President Joe Biden’s poor performance.

Joe Biden appeared to struggle in several of his answers. As a result, concerns about his age and mental fitness have only risen further. Some Democrats have even asked after the debate whether the president could be replaced as the party’s presidential candidate.

Speaking to the New York Times, an unnamed veteran Democrat says the president will face a “crescendo” of calls to step down. “Joe had a deep well of affection among Democrats. It has run dry.”

Many of the president’s surrogates have come to his defence, though. Vice-President Kamala Harris told CNN “there was a slow start but there was a strong finish” by her running mate.

Donald Trump’s supporters, meanwhile, declared victory. House Speaker Mike Johnson called it “the biggest mismatch” in debate history.

He repeatedly attacked President Biden on the economy and his foreign policy record,  Joe Biden took aim at his rival’s criminal conviction and alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Donald Trump also repeated falsehoods – from abortion, to taxes and the deficit – and at first avoided answering if he would accept the 2024 election result.

Joe Biden called Donald Trump a “sucker”, a “loser,” and said he had the “morals of an alley cat”.

Donald Trump hit back, and said at one point: “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence, and I don’t think he did either.”

Image source: Getty Images

On Russian state TV, political talk show “60 Minutes” mocked the debate, referring to it as “a reality show about the lives of pensioners”. The anchor concluded that it had been “disastrous for Joe”.

Meanwhile in China, the state-owned Global Times also described the debate as “like, external a reality show, external”. Chinese audiences did, however, enjoy the pair going “off topic to discuss their golf skills, external”.

In Ukraine, news websites such as Ukrayinska Pravda, external and NV, external, as well as the national United News TV service, gave prominence to Donald Trump’s remark that Vladimir Putin’s conditions for ending the war were “not acceptable”.

Ukranian media generally agreed that Joe Biden “lacked energy”. He failed to show voters that he can be the US president for another four years, the LB.ua website said, external.

The Hindustan Times in India said Joe Biden’s performance was “shaky” and he appeared to be “struggling and even froze several times”. Donald Trump showed “more aggression” and “capitalised on Biden’s missteps”.

Finally in Turkey, the Hurriyet newspaper said: , external“Biden had difficulty understanding the questions and hesitated when answering.”

Academic Hilmi Bolatoglu said in a post on X, external that Joe Biden’s performance suggested a “new Trump era is approaching”.

Israel’s war cabinet has met to discuss its response to Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile attack.

Israel did not make public whether a decision had been reached.

Its allies have strongly condemned Iran’s actions, but urged Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to show restraint.

While Iran has signalled it considers the matter closed, the Israeli military’s chief of staff said the attack would not go unanswered.

“Look, as we look forward, we weigh our steps, and this launch of so many missiles, cruise missiles, UAVs to the territory of the State of Israel will be met with a response,” Lt Gen Herzi Halevi said.

He did not specify a course of action, or give a timescale.

Analysts say Israel might decide to carry out a limited attack, such as a major cyberattack, or a strike on infrastructure with a low risk of casualties, calculated not to provoke a military response by Iran but to send a clear signal – or something far more extensive.

Lt Gen Halevi was speaking from Nevatim air base in southern Israel, which sustained damage in Saturday’s overnight attack but was said by Israel to be “still functioning”.

Iran said the operation was retaliation for a April 1 strike on its consulate in Syria, which killed senior Iranian military commanders.

The Israeli military said more than 300 drones and missiles were launched at Israel. It said almost all were brought down by its forces, with support from the US, UK, France and other countries, before reaching their targets. No deaths were reported and Israel said the damage was limited.

World leaders have urged restraint amid concerns about a major escalation in tensions in the Middle East.

President Joe Biden spoke to PM Netanyahu following the launch of the Iranian attack and reaffirmed “America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel”.

But on April 14 the US told Israel it would not join in any counter-strike on Iran, according to a senior White House official.

“We’re committed to a ceasefire that will bring the hostages home and prevent the conflict spreading more than it already has,” President Biden said on April 15, referring to the 130 hostages still in Gaza who were abducted from Israel on October 7, and Israel’s subsequent military operation which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

The US has warned Israel that it will not participate in any retaliatory strikes on Iran, senior White House officials have said.

Over 300 drones and missiles were fired at Israel overnight, which Iran said was in response to an April 1 strike on its consulate in Syria.

Almost all weapons were shot down by Israeli, US and allied forces before they reached their targets.

White House officials said President Joe Biden urged Israel to consider its response “carefully”.

Speaking to reporters on April 14, a senior administration official said that President Biden told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to “think very carefully and strategically” about how his forces replied to the unprecedented action, the first direct attack by Iran on the country.

The official added that the Biden administration believes Israel “got the best of it” in the exchange, which began when senior Iranian military commanders were killed at an Iranian consular building in Syria.

Image source: President Biden/X

About 99% of the missiles, drones and cruise missiles launched during Iran’s retaliatory operation were shot down or intercepted – which US officials point to as a sign of Israeli military superiority over Iran.

US aircraft and naval vessels shot down dozens of Iranian projectiles as the attack took place. Some 70 drones and several ballistic missiles were downed by US aircraft and vessels or by air defence forces over Iraq.

A conversation took place between President Biden and PM Netanyahu at a time “of heightened emotion” just after the attack, which included about 100 ballistic missiles simultaneously flying towards Israel.

During the call, the two leaders had a discussion “about how to slow things down and think through things”, with President Biden emphasizing that Israel has “gotten the best of it”.

The official declined to say, however, whether the White House warned against a significant response, saying only that “it is a calculation the Israelis have to make”.

In a string of television appearances on US networks earlier in the day, national security spokesman John Kirby repeatedly said that the US had made it clear to Israel that it seeks to avoid a wider conflict.

The senior administration said that the same message has been sent to Iran through diplomatic channels.

President Joe Biden has praised American forces who he said “helped Israel take down nearly all” drones and missiles launched by Iran on April 13.

In a statement, he said the US had moved aircraft and warships to the region before the unprecedented attack.

“I condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms,” the president added.

Israel said Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles in its direction, the first time it has attacked Israel directly from its own territory.

It said the “vast majority” were intercepted, but there were a small number of hits including at an IDF base in southern Israel. At least one person, reported to be a young girl, was injured.

Iran earlier warned that Israel would be “punished” for a strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1, which killed seven Iranian officers including a top commander. Israel has not confirmed or denied whether it was responsible.

“I’ve just spoken with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to reaffirm America’s ironclad commitment to the security of Israel,” President Biden said shortly after the pair held a call.

“I told him that Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks,” he added.

Image source: President Biden/X

Joe Biden also said he plans to convene G7 leaders on April 14 “to co-ordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack”.

He warned Iran against attacking any US assets, adding while Iran has not done so, America “remains vigilant to all threats”.

Joe Biden cut short a planned visit to his home state of Delaware on April 13, travelling back to the White House to be briefed by national security officials hours before the attack.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said President Biden was “in constant communication with Israeli officials, as well as other partners and allies”.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, meanwhile, said they were drafting legislation to provide more aid to Israel and sanction Iran.

Iran’s delegation at the UN said Tehran earlier said “the matter can be deemed concluded” but warned it would strike again if there were reprisals by Israel or the US.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard also said in a statement that “support or participation in attacking Iran’s interests will have a fierce response”.

Other nations, including the UK, France and Canada, have also condemned Iran and expressed support for Israel.

Donald Trump has been criticized by Joe Biden’s campaign team for sharing a video on social media featuring a truck bearing the image of the president with his hands and feet tied together.

The Biden campaign team accused the former president of “regularly inciting political violence” ahead of November’s election.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign said Democrats have been calling for “despicable violence” against Donald Trump.

Donald Trump posted the video on his social media site Truth Social on March 29.

According to the caption, it was filmed in Long Island, New York, on March 28 when the former president attended the wake of a New York City police officer who was killed during a traffic stop.

The video shows two passing trucks on the road, both covered in US flags and flags claiming support for the police.

The second truck was emblazoned with the words “Trump 2024”, and the rear of the vehicle features an image of Joe Biden with his hands and feet tied.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump’s promotion of the video drew criticism from Joe Biden campaign’s team.

“Trump is regularly inciting political violence and it’s time people take him seriously – just ask the Capitol police officers who were attacked protecting our democracy on January 6,” spokesman Michael Tyler said, referring to the storming of Congress by the former president’s supporters after he falsely claimed the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

But Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, responded: “That picture was on the back of a pickup truck that was travelling down the highway. Democrats and crazed lunatics have not only called for despicable violence against President Trump and his family, they are actually weaponizing the justice system against him.”

The Republican presidential nominee faces four criminal cases, with an election subversion case and New York hush money case the most likely to be heard in court before the election on 5 November.

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases, and claimed he is being politically persecuted.

The row over the tailgate image is the latest in a series of heated exchanges between the two presidential candidates in the run-up to the polls.

In his bid to return to the White House, Donald Trump has ramped up his rhetoric, frequently referring to those convicted for their part in the riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 as “hostages”.

He also came under criticism for comments in Ohio earlier this month in which he warned of a “bloodbath” if he wasn’t elected. He made the reference after talking about foreign car imports and their economic impact.

The Biden campaign seized on the comments but Donald Trump accused them and the media of taking him out of context.

The USA has carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid for Gaza Strip, with more than 30,000 meals parachuted in by three military planes.

The operation, carried out jointly with Jordan’s air force, was the first of many announced by President Joe Biden.

President Biden promised to step up aid after at least 112 people were killed as crowds rushed a convoy on February 29.

The airdrop comes as a top US official said the framework of a deal for a six-week ceasefire in Gaza was in place.

On March 2, C-130 transport planes dropped more than 38,000 meals along the coastline of the territory, US Central Command said in a statement.

“These airdrops are part of a sustained effort to get more aid into Gaza, including by expanding the flow of aid through land corridors and routes,” it added.

Other countries including the UK, France, Egypt and Jordan have previously airdropped aid into Gaza, but this is the first by the US.

Vice-President Kamala Harris will meet Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz in Washington on March 4 to discuss a truce and other issues, Reuters quotes a White House official as saying.

Image source: AFP

In February 29 incident, 112 people were killed and more than 760 injured as they crowded around aid lorries on the south-western edge of Gaza City.

Hamas accused Israel of firing at civilians, but Israel said most died in a crush after it fired warning shots.

Hamas meanwhile said an Israeli bombardment had killed at least 11 people at a camp in Rafah in southern Gaza on March 2.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the attack “outrageous”. The Israeli army said it had carried out a “precision strike” against Islamic Jihad militants in the area.

The UN’s World Food Programme has warned that a famine is imminent in northern Gaza, which has received very little aid in recent weeks, and where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water.

The Israel military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on October 7 and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 30,000 people, including 21,000 children and women, have been killed in Gaza since then with some 7,000 missing and at least 70,450 injured.

President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, is urging an investigation into those he accuses of trafficking in stolen material from his laptop.

In letters filed on February 1, lawyers representing Hunter Biden named a computer repair shop owner and Rudy Giuliani as among those who they say had broken the law.

He also threatened to sue Fox News’ Tucker Carlson for defamation.

It’s a shift in strategy for Hunter Biden to hit back after years of scrutiny, a source close to him told CBS News.

The laptop’s existence was first brought to the public’s attention by the New York Post less than one month before the 2020 presidential election.

It had allegedly been left by Hunter Biden in a repair shop and never collected.

The Post alleged that emails found on the computer’s hard-drive suggested Hunter Biden’s business dealings abroad were influencing US foreign policy while his father was vice-president.

Former president Donald Trump seized on the laptop as a campaign issue, saying it was evidence of corruption.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Hunter Biden, 52, is a lawyer and lobbyist who has worked abroad including in China and Ukraine.

The FBI has been investigating his business dealings since 2018 and has gathered enough evidence to charge him with tax crimes, and CBS News claim that they appear to have gathered enough evidence suggesting tax crimes may have been committed.

Republicans have vowed to investigate him and the family business now they have control of the House of Representatives.

President Biden and his family have denied any wrongdoing in overseas business dealings.

In the latest development, Hunter Biden’s lawyers wrote letters to the Justice Department, the attorney general of Delaware and the Internal Revenue Service.

They asked them to investigate former computer repair shop owner John Paul Mac Isaac, former Trump advisers Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon and their lawyer, Robert Costello.

Lawyers said they believed various Delaware laws were breached “in accessing, copying, manipulating, and/or disseminating Mr. Biden’s personal computer data”.

But Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said in a statement to CBS News that the letters “do not confirm Mac Isaac’s or others’ versions of a so-called laptop.”

In response to Hunter Biden’s new suite of legal threats, a lawyer for Mr Isaac said “the only thing I see is a privileged person hiring yet another high-priced attorney to redirect attention away from his own unlawful actions”.

Mac Isaac also claims that the laptop was left with him for repair in April 2019, and Hunter Biden never returned to collect it.

He said he reviewed the laptop files shortly after receiving it and discovered information about Hunter Biden’s personal finances. After waiting 90 days – the amount of time that had to pass before something could be considered abandoned property – Mac Isaac considered it abandoned.

He turned the laptop over to the FBI and provided a copy of the contents to Rudy Guiliani, who later would pass it along to the New York Post.

Robert Costello, a lawyer for both Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon, told CBS News the letters to the Justice Department and Delaware were a “frivolous legal complaint trying to intimidate”.

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”.

Photo AP

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.

Photo Getty Images

Mike Pence has dismissed claims by Donald Trump that he could have stopped Joe Biden becoming president.

In his strongest rebuttal yet, the former vice-president said Donald Trump was wrong to suggest he had had the right to overturn the election.

Separately the Republican Party censured two of its top lawmakers for investigating the Capitol riots.

A mob stormed the Capitol as lawmakers met to confirm President Joe Biden’s poll win on January 6, 2021.

Four people died during the riots, and a police officer who suffered two strokes while defending the building died the following day.

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”.

Who Stormed Capitol Building?

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. 

Senator Mitt Romney tweeted: “Shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol.”

Speaking in Orlando, Florida, Mike Pence was responding to Donald Trump’s comments on January 30 that he could have overturned the election if he had wanted to.

Donald Trump has falsely claimed that the election was stolen by Joe Biden.

Days later Donald Trump said the select committee should be investigating Mike Pence instead of the rioters.

Mike Pence responded: “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone.

“And [current Vice-President] Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”

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Image source: Reuters

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.

Vladimir Putin admits Crimea annexation plot before referendum

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.

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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.

Photo AP

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 meme was born.

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Image by Richard Barboza from Pixabay

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”.

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Last month, a lawsuit launched by relatives saw several top former Saudi officials questioned under oath.

The administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all declined to declassify the documents, citing national security concerns.

Last week, President Biden last ordered a review of investigative documents, telling officials to release what they could over the next six months.

There has long been speculation of official Saudi links to the plot, given the number of Saudi nationals involved and al-Qaeda leaders Osama Bin Laden’s Saudi background.

However, the 9/11 commission report found no evidence to implicate the Saudi government or senior officials.

The US and Saudi Arabia have long been allies, although the relationship has at times been difficult.

Donald Trump strengthened ties but Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia “a pariah” for its part in the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

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The rescuers at 9/11 WTC are at 19% higher risk of cancer as a result of exposure to toxic fumes, according to a study published in a special The Lancet series to mark the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.

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.

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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.

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The rescuers at 9/11 WTC are at 19% higher risk of cancer as a result of exposure to toxic fumes, according to a study published in a special The Lancet series to mark the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.

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.

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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.”

Photo AP

President Joe Biden has signed an executive order aimed at cracking down on Big Tech and promoting competition.

The move points to President Biden’s desire for tougher scrutiny of Big Tech, which the administration has accused of “undermining competition”.

“Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation,” he said at Friday’s signing event.

The order includes 72 actions and recommendations involving ten agencies.

It suggests that problems have arisen because of large tech firms collecting too much personal information, buying up potential competitors and competing unfairly with small businesses.

Several recommendations it sets out include:

  • Greater scrutiny of mergers in the tech sector
  • New rules to be set out by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on data collection
  • Barring unfair methods of competition on internet marketplaces.

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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.

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Image source The Blue Diamond Gallery

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.

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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.

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Image source: G7uk.org

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.

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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”.

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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”.

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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.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The United States will share up to 60 million doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries as they become available, the White House has announced.

The doses will be able to be exported in the coming months after a federal safety review.

The US has a stockpile of the vaccine even though its regulators have not yet authorized it for public use.

Critics have accused the government of hoarding the vaccine, while other countries are in desperate need.

Last month President Joe Biden pledged to share about 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Mexico and Canada – both of which have approved the vaccine.

The crisis in India has also piled pressure on the Biden administration to share US health resources.

On April 26, the White House said it expected that about 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine could be released when the FDA finishes its review in the coming weeks.

It said that another 50 million doses were in various stages of production.

At a news briefing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said FDA officials would carry out quality checks on doses before they were exported.

She added: “Our team will share more details about our planning and who will be receiving offers from here, but we’re in the planning process at this point in time.”

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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.

Image source: AP

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.

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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.

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Image source Wikimedia

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.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was not present.

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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.

Image source: NASA

Former Florida Senator and one-time astronaut Bill Nelson has been nominated by President Joe Biden to be the next head of NASA.

He is seen as a moderate Democrat, and his nomination on March 19 drew bipartisan praise.

The 78-year-old will need to be confirmed in the Senate before he can take up the role.

Bill Nelson said he was “honored” to be picked to lead the US space agency, adding that he would “help lead NASA into an exciting future”.

In a statement, the White House said he was “known as the go-to senator for our nation’s space program” for many years.

“Almost every piece of space and science law has had his imprint,” the statement said.

The Republican Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, said: “I cannot think of anyone better to lead NASA.”

In a statement, Bill Nelson said NASA’s workforce “radiates optimism, ingenuity and a can-do spirit.”

He added: “The NASA team continues to achieve the seemingly impossible as we venture into the cosmos.”

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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.

Image source: AP

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.

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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.