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Biden administration alarmed by violence against peaceful protestors in Myanmar

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President Joe Biden gets briefed by Liz Sherwood Randall, Julie Rodriguez and participates in a conference phone call with governors affected by the snow storm in the middle of the country in the Oval Office, Feb. 16, 2021, in Washington. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Joe Biden gets briefed by Liz Sherwood Randall, Julie Rodriguez and participates in a conference phone call with governors affected by the snow storm in the middle of the country in the Oval Office, Feb. 16, 2021, in Washington. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

The Biden administration said on Sunday it was ‘alarmed by violence against peaceful protestors’ in Myanmar where the military suspended democracy recently.

“The United States is alarmed by the Burmese security forces’ violence against peaceful protestors,” President Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “The killings today represent an escalation of the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy protestors since the February 1 coup. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of the courageous protestors who have lost their lives while peacefully demonstrating in support of democracy in Burma.”

Jake Sullivan
Jake Sullivan

Sullivan said the United States “stands in solidarity with the people of Burma, who continue to bravely voice their aspirations for democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

“We will continue coordinating closely with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world to hold those responsible for violence to account, and to reinforce our support for the people of Burma.

“To that end, we are preparing additional actions to impose further costs on those responsible for this latest outbreak of violence and the recent coup. We will have more to share in the coming days,” he added.

The Biden administration has called for a return to the rule of law, democracy and the release of activists and politicians still being held by the military.

“This election was rigged” and “Supreme Court didn’t have the guts to do anything about it”, Trump pushes election fraud lies to supporters in first post-presidency speech. Calls foreigners rapists, murderers, criminals and gang members

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President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the 450th mile of the new border wall Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, near the Texas Mexico border. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the 450th mile of the new border wall Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, near the Texas Mexico border. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Former President Donald J. Trump brutally attacked his successor President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in a speech he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday, describing his actions as “foolish” and claiming he’s had the “most disastrous” first month of his presidency. He also used the podium to push his own election fraud lies, claiming he won an election he lost by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral college votes. 

“This election was rigged, and the Supreme Court and other Courts didn’t want to do anything about it,” Trump said, as the crowd chanted, “You won, you won, you won, you won,” weaponizing his election fraud lies one more time, as many of his supporters who rioted on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 over claims of election fraud watched from homes all over the country.

“They used COVID as a way of cheating,” Trump said. “And the Republicans have to do something about it.”

Trump said the Supreme Court did not have the “courage to act.” “They should be ashamed of themselves for what they did to our country,” Trump said of the Supreme Court.

In his first major speech as a former President, Trump also attacked foreigners, describing them as “murderers, rapists, criminals and gang members” to the applause of his mainly maskless audience.

Trump said countries are not sending their best citizens to the United States but rather their worst, attacking Biden for opening U.S. borders to “illegal aliens” in their “thousands and thousands and thousands.”

Trump also attacked Biden for “increasing refugee admission” to the United States that he reduced by almost 10 times, claiming that the current president was taking care of foreigners better than American citizens.

Trump also pushed his election fraud lies, saying he won the last election he lost and may even run again to “beat them for a third time.”

Trump also criticized Biden for rejoining the World Health Organization, calling the organization a “puppet to China.” He also attacked President Biden for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord.

Trump also described as fake news, reports that he may start a third party and run as an independent in the 2024 presidential election.

Trump’s speech was mainly about lamentations, complaints, attacks, demonization of foreigners, and election fraud lies.

He complained about “cancel culture” following his suspension by social media networks for inciting his supporters to commit acts of violence, and for pushing baseless election fraud claims and weaponizing lies.

In four years, under Trump, the Republicans lost the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Trump himself lost lost the popular vote twice, in 2016 and 2020, and his approval rating remained below 50 percent throughout his presidency and after.

But some Republicans seem to believe Trump is their future, a position that may cost them future elections, especially because of his legal battles that are just beginning and may prevent him from being a viable candidate again.

Trump’s possible legal or public disqualification may mean that Republicans may not have enough time to find a replacement close to the next elections in 2022 and 2024.

President Ramaphosa: What I’m doing to contain COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa one year after first case was detected

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President Cyril Ramaphosa participates in a virtual United Nations High-Level meeting on Financing for Development in Era of COVID-19 and Beyond on May 28, 2020
President Cyril Ramaphosa participates in a virtual United Nations High-Level meeting on Financing for Development in Era of COVID-19 and Beyond on May 28, 2020

President Cyril Ramaphosa has written South Africans to explain what his administration has done to contain the deadly coronavirus, a year after the first case was identified in the country.

More than one-and-a-half million people in South Africa have been infected and nearly 50,000 people have been reported to have died from the disease.

“In the 10 days since we launched our coronavirus vaccination program, more than 67,000 health workers – who are on the frontline of our fight against COVID-19 – have been vaccinated,” Ramaphosa said in his letter on Sunday. “A new batch of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in the country yesterday, and we are steadily increasing the number of doses administered each day.”

Ramaphosa said the start of the vaccination campaign has gone “extremely well” and has shown “what we can achieve when we work together as government, the scientific community and the private sector.”

The South African leader’s full letter reads:

Fellow South Africans,
 
This coming Friday will mark exactly one year since the first case of coronavirus was reported in South Africa.
 
Since then, more than one-and-a-half million people in South Africa have been infected and nearly 50,000 people have been reported to have died from the disease.
 
So much has changed in our country and in our lives.
 
But the spirit of our people has not changed.
 
You have endured the greatest hardships, but you have remained resolute, united and hopeful.
 
Now, a year after the virus first reached our shores, we have a clear path towards containing infections and, ultimately, overcoming the disease.
 
Within less than a year the global scientific community has developed, tested and produced several vaccines that are safe and effective against the disease.
 
South Africa’s scientists and research institutions have made an important contribution to these efforts and have contributed to global knowledge about the disease, including on the emergence of new variants.
 
We have long held the view that a vaccine would be our most decisive measure to combat COVID-19, and to that extent set up processes at a continental and national level to prepare for the availability of an effective vaccine.
 
Like many countries, we have now started our vaccination programme.
 
In the 10 days since we launched our coronavirus vaccination programme, more than 67,000 health workers – who are on the frontline of our fight against COVID-19 – have been vaccinated.
 
A new batch of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in the country yesterday, and we are steadily increasing the number of doses administered each day. 
 
The start of our vaccination campaign has gone extremely well.
 
It has shown what we can achieve when we work together as government, the scientific community and the private sector. 
 
All provinces have established vaccination sites and have put in place plans for the expansion of the programme as it gains momentum.
 
The number of sites that will be available for vaccination will be expanded next week from 17 sites to 49 sites. 
 
Of the 49 sites, 32 will be at public hospitals and 17 sites in private hospitals. 
 
This includes sites in rural areas to improve access to rural healthcare workers. 
 
Once the vaccination of healthcare workers has been completed, we will begin with phase two of the vaccine roll-out in late April or early May.
 
Phase two will include the elderly, essential workers, persons living or working in institutional settings and those with co-morbidities. 
 
For this phase, we will be activating many more sites for vaccination in the public and private healthcare sector so that we can reach as many people in the shortest possible time.
 
We have recently signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to secure 11 million doses. 
 
Of these doses, 2.8 million doses will be delivered in the second quarter and the rest spread throughout the year. 
 
We have also secured 20 million doses from Pfizer, which will be delivered from the second quarter. 
 
Additionally, we have secured 12 million vaccine doses from the COVAX facility and are in the process of finalising our dose allocation from the African Union. 
 
We are in constant contact with various other vaccine manufacturers to ensure that we have the necessary quantities of vaccines when we need them.
 
Fellow South Africans,
 
When I last addressed the nation, at the beginning of this month, the country had passed the peak of the second wave of coronavirus infections.
 
Driven by a new variant of the virus, the second wave was far more devastating and caused greater loss of life than the first wave.
 
The country has now clearly emerged from the second wave.
 
New infections, admissions to hospital and deaths have fallen significantly and continue to decline steadily.
 
In the week that has just passed, the country recorded just under 10,000 new infections.
 
A month ago, in the last week of January, the country recorded over 40,000 new cases.
 
And a month before that, in the last week of December, the country recorded close to 90,000 new cases. 
 
This dramatic decline in cases over eight weeks is due to a combination of the public health measures introduced, changes in behaviour and accumulating immunity in those who became infected in our communities.
 
We were able to emerge from the second wave because most people adhered to the tighter restrictions and observed the basic health protocols, including wearing masks in public and social distancing.
 
The measures we had to put in place in December were necessary to contain infections and prevent our health facilities from being overwhelmed.
 
They were necessary to save lives.
 
We had to undertake these measures knowing that they placed restrictions on the daily lives of everyone in this country. They caused great inconvenience to many.
 
And while we made every effort to keep the economy open, we also knew that there were parts of the economy that would be affected and that wouldn’t be able to operate fully.
 
Our approach has always been that such restrictions should not remain in place longer than is absolutely necessary to contain the disease. 
 
Due to the decline in infections, the country can now ease some of the restrictions on movement and activity.
 
Once again, we do so cautiously.
 
Even after a sustained period of relatively low transmission, we have seen how the number of new infections can rise rapidly and without warning.
 
Based on an assessment of the current state of the pandemic in the country, Cabinet decided earlier today to move the country from Coronavirus Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 1.
 
The new alert level will come into effect later this evening once the regulations have been gazetted.
 
This will mean that:
 
The hours of the curfew will now be from 12 midnight to 4am.
 
Gatherings will be permitted, subject to limitations on size, adherence to social distancing and other health protocols.
 
These include religious, social, political and cultural gatherings.
 
The maximum number of people allowed at any gathering is 100 people indoors or 250 people outdoors.
 
Where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50 per cent of the capacity of the venue may be used.
 
Night vigils or other gatherings before or after funerals are still not permitted.
 
Nightclubs will remain closed.
 
The sale of alcohol will be permitted, according to normal licence provisions. However, no alcohol may be sold during the hours of curfew.
 
The wearing of masks in public places is still mandatory, and failure to wear a mask when required remains a criminal offence.
 
The 33 land border posts that have been closed throughout this period will remain closed, while the other 20 will remain open.
 
Only five airports will be open for international travel with standard infection control measures. 
 
These are OR Tambo, Cape Town, King Shaka, Kruger Mpumalanga and Lanseria airports.
 
As we ease restrictions, we cannot let our guard down.
 
The few remaining restrictions under Alert Level 1 are meant to maintain low levels of infections and, in particular, to prevent super-spreading events.
 
The new variant – known as 501Y.v2 – is now the dominant variant in the country.
 
Because the new variant is transmitted more easily, it has the potential to infect more people, place a greater strain on our health system and lead to a greater loss of life.
 
Therefore, social distancing is even more critical.
 
Wearing a mask and avoiding crowds is even more important.
 
And it is now even more important that we all download the COVID Alert SA mobile app onto our cellphones.
 
Nearly two million South Africans are already using the COVID Alert SA mobile app to be notified if they are exposed to the virus.
 
Please go for a test if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.
 
These measures are not merely to protect each of us but to also protect those we love and care for. 
 
Following these measures is about protecting yourself, your family and your community. 
 
It is about being responsible and caring.
 
We must continue these measures even as more and more people are vaccinated.
 
Vaccines significantly reduce the likelihood of a person developing symptoms and becoming seriously ill, and they reduce the overall rate of infection in a population.
 
We therefore need to see vaccines as one of the measures that we have in our coronavirus toolkit to contain the pandemic.
 
As we have said in the past vaccines are now the most effective measure that we have. 
 
Still, we will only be able to ultimately overcome the pandemic if we continue to practice all the other prevention measures as well.
 
We must do all this both so that we defeat the pandemic and so that we can accelerate our economic recovery.
 
We must do this to restore our country to growth and get people back into work.
 
Even as economic activity returns, even as we roll out our employment stimulus and infrastructure investment programmes, even as we undertake economic reforms with greater urgency, many businesses are still struggling.
 
Many people still do not have their jobs back and many households are still feeling the effect of having lost much of their income.
 
As I announced in the State of the Nation Address, we have therefore extended the period for the Special COVID-19 Grant by a further three months, until the end of April.
 
We have also extended the UIF’s special COVID-19 wage support benefit until 15 March 2021 for those sectors of the economy that have not been able to operate over this period.
 
These measures have been shown to be effective at reducing the economic impact of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable in our society.
 
Our country’s public finances are, however, extremely constrained, and we cannot keep such relief measures in place indefinitely.
 
The return to Alert Level 1 means that most of the remaining restrictions on economic activity have been removed. 
 
We expect this to lead to higher consumption spending, bolstered by the steady recovery in employment. 
 
We expect businesses to implement the plans they may have put on hold. 
 
As we undertake further structural reforms, this will entrench the green shoots we have begun to see in the economy.
 
That is why all our energy and effort must now go into growing the economy – and this includes keeping infections down.
 
For this reason, among others, the easing of restrictions should not be viewed as a reason to abandon precautions.
 
The threat of a third wave is constantly present, as is the threat of yet more new variants.
 
As we witnessed last year, our actions as individuals and as a collective will determine whether and how soon we experience a resurgence of the virus.
 
In the meantime, the virus continues to circulate in our families, our workplaces and our communities. 
 
As our vaccination campaign gathers pace, we must continue to exercise extreme caution to protect ourselves and others.
 
Together with our scientists and experts, we will continue to monitor the situation closely and to adapt our approach in a responsive and flexible manner.
 
This pandemic has taken much from us, but it has not taken our strength, our courage or our sense of solidarity as a people.
 
It has not dampened our spirit or weakened our resolve.
 
Our uniquely South African spirit has allowed us to remain steadfast in the face of an unprecedented threat, and which will continue to inspire us as we chart a path to recovery.
 
Let us remain united, hopeful and determined as ever to face down this challenge.
 
May God continue to bless South Africa and protect her people.
 
I thank you.

Biden welcomes Johnson & Johnson vaccine to defeat COVID-19: This is exciting news for all Americans

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President Joe Biden salutes a U.S. Marine as he prepares to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, before departing for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Official White House Photo by Stephanie Chasez)
President Joe Biden salutes a U.S. Marine as he prepares to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, before departing for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (Official White House Photo by Stephanie Chasez)

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. late on Saturday welcomed the announcement that the coronavirus vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had been approved for emergency use.

“This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis,” said the democratic president who vowed to defeat the deadly virus and then move to eradicate cancer.

Biden wrote: “Today, after a rigorous, open, and objective scientific review process, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a third safe and effective vaccine to help us defeat the COVID-19 pandemic — the Janssen COVID-19 (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis.

“We know that the more people get vaccinated, the faster we will overcome the virus, get back to our friends and loved ones, and get our economy back on track. Thanks to the brilliance of our scientists, the resilience of our people, and the eagerness of Americans in every community to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated, we are moving in the right direction. I look forward to speaking more about today’s news and updating the American people on our progress this coming week.

“But I want to be clear: this fight is far from over. Though we celebrate today’s news, I urge all Americans — keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks. As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse. My Administration will not make the mistake of taking this threat lightly, or just assuming the best: that’s why we need the American Rescue Plan to keep this fight going in the months ahead.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable. We must continue to remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively, and look out for one another — that is how we are going to reach that light together.”

Biden’s statement came just an hour after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the one-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

It is the third vaccine to be approved in the U.S. and the only one that requires only one-shot. The vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNtech, which were approved last December, require two shots weeks apart.

The approval comes only a day after an FDA panel of advisers on Friday voted 22-0 to recommend an emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The question the advisers were answering was: Do the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweigh its risks for use in people 18 years of age and older?

The answer was unanimous, with all the 22 advisers voting for emergency use authorization of the one-shot vaccine during the pandemic. The recommendation set the stage for today’s approval.

Alex Gorsky
Alex Gorsky, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson

An FDA review released on Wednesday found that the Johnson & Johnson is safe and efficacious. The FDA confirmed that the one-shot vaccine provides strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a 72 percent overall efficacy rate in the United States. In South Africa, it was less effective at 64 percent because of a highly contagious variant there.

In the review, the efficacy of the vaccine was seven point higher than early data the company released several weeks ago.

The review found that the vaccine was 86 percent effective at preventing severe illness, including in places dominated by new variants. It said the vaccine efficacy against severe cases of COVID-19 “was similarly high across the United States, South Africa, and Brazil.”

When moderate and severe cases were combined, the vaccine was only 66 percent effective against the coronavirus, including for old and new variants.

However, FDA team of scientists concluded that there were benefits in taking the vaccine and that it could reduce the risk of symptomatic and severe cases of COVID-19 at least two weeks after vaccination.

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in U.S.

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Alex Gorsky
Alex Gorsky, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson

The United States Food and Drug Administration on Saturday granted emergency use authorization to the one-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

It is the third vaccine to be approved in the U.S. and the only one that requires only one-shot. The vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNtech, which were approved last December, require two shots weeks apart.

The approval comes only a day after an FDA panel of advisers on Friday voted 22-0 to recommend an emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The question the advisers were answering was: Do the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweigh its risks for use in people 18 years of age and older?

The answer was unanimous, with all the 22 advisers voting for emergency use authorization of the one-shot vaccine during the pandemic. The recommendation set the stage for today’s approval.

President Biden was elated over the emergency use approval, saying in a statement, “This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis.”

The U.S. leader wrote: “Today, after a rigorous, open, and objective scientific review process, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a third safe and effective vaccine to help us defeat the COVID-19 pandemic — the Janssen COVID-19 (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis.

“We know that the more people get vaccinated, the faster we will overcome the virus, get back to our friends and loved ones, and get our economy back on track. Thanks to the brilliance of our scientists, the resilience of our people, and the eagerness of Americans in every community to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated, we are moving in the right direction. I look forward to speaking more about today’s news and updating the American people on our progress this coming week.

“But I want to be clear: this fight is far from over. Though we celebrate today’s news, I urge all Americans — keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks. As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse. My Administration will not make the mistake of taking this threat lightly, or just assuming the best: that’s why we need the American Rescue Plan to keep this fight going in the months ahead.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable. We must continue to remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively, and look out for one another — that is how we are going to reach that light together.”

Alex Gorsky
Alex Gorsky, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson

An FDA review released on Wednesday found that the Johnson & Johnson is safe and efficacious. The FDA confirmed that the one-shot vaccine provides strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a 72 percent overall efficacy rate in the United States. In South Africa, it was less effective at 64 percent because of a highly contagious variant there.

In the review, the efficacy of the vaccine was seven point higher than early data the company released several weeks ago.

The review found that the vaccine was 86 percent effective at preventing severe illness, including in places dominated by new variants. It said the vaccine efficacy against severe cases of COVID-19 “was similarly high across the United States, South Africa, and Brazil.”

When moderate and severe cases were combined, the vaccine was only 66 percent effective against the coronavirus, including for old and new variants.

However, FDA team of scientists concluded that there were benefits in taking the vaccine and that it could reduce the risk of symptomatic and severe cases of COVID-19 at least two weeks after vaccination.

The House of Representatives passed Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Here is everything it includes

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President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, delivers remarks during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, delivers remarks during a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The United States House of Representatives early on Saturday voted to approve President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

The bill, which will now go to the Senate, was passed along almost entirely partisan lines. It was opposed by all Republicans and supported by all Democrats, except two moderate ones.

Amongst its most notable benefits, the bill includes $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans who make less than $75,000 a year and $2,800 for married couples making under $150,000.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, all these stimulus checks will cost a total of $422 billion.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Secretary of the Treasury Dr. Janet Yellen and business leaders Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Secretary of the Treasury Dr. Janet Yellen and business leaders Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The bill also provides for a $400 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits lasting through August 29. Under the previous package, this bonus was $300 per week.

To help parents and families that are struggling financially, the American Rescue Plan positions the IRS to provide $3,600 in tax credit per child under the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per child of ages 6 to 17. Currently, this tax credit is just $2,000 per dependent.

Families will also be able to claim up to half of their childcare expenses when filing taxes.

The bill reduces health care premiums for low- and middle-income families by increasing premium tax credits through the Affordable Care Act for 2021 and 2022. It also provides subsidies so that it is easier for workers who have recently been laid off or had their hours reduced to keep their health coverage.

The American Rescue Plan sets aside $50 billion for coronavirus testing and contact tracing. It also includes $19 billion for increasing the size of the public health workforce and $16 billion for funding vaccine distribution and supply chains.

To assist small businesses, the bill provides for $25 billion in grants for bars and restaurants that are in financial distress stemming from the pandemic. Additional funds provide for grants to other businesses and companies as well as pension grants.

The House bill also includes $350 billion in federal aid for state and local governments, territories, and tribes.

Under the American Rescue Plan, $90 billion would go toward funding for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, covering funeral expenses related to the coronavirus, airports, aviation manufacturers, and transit agencies like Amtrak.

Funding provided by the bill includes $130 billion for K-12 education that is meant to be used to create a more socially distant and covid-friendly academic environment for students. An additional $40 billion would go toward childcare providers and another $40 billion would go toward higher education.

The bill sets aside $10 billion for mortgage assistance and $30 billion in rental assistance as well as relief for the homeless.

While the American Rescue Plan originally included an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, this provision is unlikely to be included in the version of the bill that makes it to President’s desk as the Senate Parliamentarian ruled on Thursday against including the proposed wage increase in the relief package.

President Biden writes House Speaker, Senate President, explains Syria airstrike

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President Joe Biden takes notes during a meeting with bipartisan Senators to discuss infrastructure Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden takes notes during a meeting with bipartisan Senators to discuss infrastructure Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Saturday sent a letter to House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and President pro tempore of the Senate, Patrick Leahy, explaining why he authorized targeted military strike against infrastructure in eastern Syria believed to be used by Iran-supported non-state militia groups. 

The president said his letter was “consistent with the War Powers Resolution.”

President Biden wrote: “Dear Madam Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

“At my direction, on February 25, 2021, United States forces conducted a targeted military strike against infrastructure in eastern Syria used by Iran-supported non-state militia groups. 

“Those non-state militia groups were involved in recent attacks against United States and Coalition personnel in Iraq, including the February 15, 2021, attack in Erbil, Iraq, which wounded one United States service member, wounded four United States contractors, including one critically, and killed one Filipino contractor.  These groups are also engaged in ongoing planning for future such attacks.

“In response, I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks.  The United States always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, including when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory by non-state militia groups responsible for such attacks. 

“I directed this military action consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.  The United States took this action pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. 

“I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148).  I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.

“Sincerely, 

 “JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.”

Biden calls on Senate to pass his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan

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President Joe Biden looks over his notes as he walks through the Rose Garden of the White House Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, en route to the Residence. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden looks over his notes as he walks through the Rose Garden of the White House Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, en route to the Residence. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Saturday called on the United States Senate to pass his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, just hours after the House of Representatives approved the bill.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room at the White House, the Democratic president said the bill enjoy huge support from the American people.

“For a few weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of American public has made it clear that they support my American Rescue Plan. And the House of Representatives took the first step toward making it a reality,” the president said. “And I want to thank — and I called her just a few moments ago — Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary, Speaker Pelosi, for her extraordinary leadership, and all those who supported our plan.”

He added: “And with their vote, we’re one step closer to vaccinating the nation. We’re one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans. We are one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are shortly going to lose them.

“We are one step closer to helping millions of Americans feed their families and keep a roof over their head. We’re one step closer to getting our kids safely back in school. And we’re one step closer to getting state and local governments the money they need to prevent massive layoffs for essential workers.

“Now the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action. I have — 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 of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering. The American Rescue Plan does just that. It relieves the suffering, and it’s time to act.”

President Biden took no questions from reporters, including a question on whether he will punish the Saudi crown prince for approving the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

U.S. House of Representatives votes 219-212 to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Oct. 1. PHOTO: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Oct. 1. PHOTO: ERIN SCOTT/REUTERS

The United States House of Representatives on Saturday morning voted 219-212 to pass President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The bill contains $1400 direct checks to the American people.

The relief bill, to crush the coronavirus, provide help to the American people, get funding to states, schools, and boost the economic activity by supporting small businesses, now moves to the Senate where it is expected to pass without the minimum wage provision in it.

Republicans, who handed out billions of dollars to big corporations last year, have argued that the plan was too expensive, and that it contains many provisions that help Democratic states. They voted against the plan.

All Democratic lawmakers, except Rep. Jared Golden of Maine and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, were the only two moderate ones to cross party lines.

The Democrats and the Republicans have an equal 50-50 number of Senators, that means Vice President Kamala Harris would break the tie with her vote and hand the Democrats a win in the Senate.

Accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

In October 2018, the world was horrified by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  Individuals should be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of government retribution, retaliation, punishment, or harm.  Jamal Khashoggi paid with his life to express his beliefs.  President Biden said in a statement released last October on the second anniversary of the murder that Mr. Khashoggi’s death would not be in vain, and that we owe it to his memory to fight for a more just and free world.

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration submitted an unclassified report to Congress, providing transparency on this horrific killing.  Alongside the transmission of that report, and as part of the President’s pledge, the United States Government is announcing additional measures to reinforce the world’s condemnation of that crime, and to push back against governments that reach beyond their borders to threaten and attack journalists and perceived dissidents for exercising their fundamental freedoms.

To that end, today I am announcing the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new visa restriction policy pursuant to section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons.  Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate. 

To start, the U.S. Department of State has taken action pursuant to the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.  When identifying individuals for purposes of the Khashoggi Ban, we will also review them for designation under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2020, as carried forward by the CA Act of 2021, which authorizes the denial of visas to them and their immediate family members as well as their public identification.

As a matter of safety for all within our borders, perpetrators targeting perceived dissidents on behalf of any foreign government should not be permitted to reach American soil. 

I also have directed that the State Department fully report on any such extraterritorial activities by any government in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  The United States will continue to shine a light on any government that targets individuals, either domestically or extraterritorially, merely for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values.  To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end.  They will not be tolerated by the United States.

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