President Joe Biden will receive the K-pop megastars BTS next week as part of a series of events celebrating Asian-Americans and denouncing racism against them, the White House said Thursday.
Anti-Asian sentiment and violence in the US have grown during the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump often called the bug the “China virus” or the “kung flu” and these remarks have been seen as stirring up anger against Asians among conservative Americans.
Biden will receive the Korean boy band on May 31 “to discuss Asian inclusion and representation, and to address anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination which have become more prominent issues in recent years,” the White House said in a statement.
It called BTS “youth ambassadors who spread a message of hope and positivity across the world.”
The seven floppy-haired musicians of BTS, all in their 20s and often sporting earrings and lipstick, appeal to a generation comfortable with gender fluidity.
They are credited with generating billions for the South Korean economy, and their label enjoyed a surge in profits despite holding fewer concerts during the pandemic.
Biden at 79 is the oldest person to assume the US presidency.
Since taking office in 2020 he has launched a major campaign to reach out to young people by working with young celebrities and social media influencers.
Biden has received pop singer Olivia Rodrigo at the White House, and the Jonas Brothers, a popular band, has taped videos with Biden promoting Covid-19 vaccinations.
President Joe Biden on Thursday warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of a tough US response to any invasion of Ukraine, while the Kremlin leader said anti-Moscow sanctions would be a “colossal mistake.”
After a 50-minute phone call — their second in just over three weeks — both presidents indicated support for further diplomacy on the tense standoff between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine.
Putin was “pleased” overall with the talks, foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters. A senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the tone “was serious and substantive.”
But there was no disguising the depth of disagreement — or the dangerously high stakes on the fringes of eastern Europe — ahead of in-person negotiations between high-ranking Russian and US officials on January 10.
Biden “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Ushakov, referring to Washington’s repeated threats of economic sanctions as a response to a Ukraine attack, said this would be “a colossal mistake. We hope this will not happen.”
Ushakov also said that Russia is looking for a concrete “result” in the January talks in Geneva, while the White House said it, too, wanted action — de-escalation by Russia’s massive military presence on the Ukrainian border.
“President Biden reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” Psaki said.
– Troops and demands –
Washington and its European allies accuse Russia of threatening former Soviet territory Ukraine with a new invasion. Some 100,000 Russian troops are massed near the border of the country, where Putin already seized the Crimea region in 2014 and is accused of fomenting a pro-Russian separatist war which erupted that same year in the east.
Moscow describes the troop presence as protection against expansion of NATO, although Ukraine has not been offered membership in the military alliance.
Earlier this month, the Russians issued a sweeping set of demands, including guarantees that NATO not expand and a bar on new US military bases in former territories of the Soviet Union.
The United States rejects what it calls a bid by the Moscow to dictate independent countries’ futures.
In a readout after the call, the Kremlin stressed that Biden told Putin that US offensive weapons would not be deployed in Ukraine. The White House, however, said Biden merely reaffirmed existing policy.
“President Biden made clear that the US is continuing to provide defensive security assistance to Ukraine and is not introducing offensive strike weapons. This was not a new commitment,” a US official told AFP.
And US officials repeated warnings of blistering economic sanctions backed both by Washington and EU capitals if Russia does attack Ukraine further.
Biden “laid out two paths,” a senior administration official said. “One is a path of diplomacy… and the other path is more focused on deterrence, including serious costs.”
– US support for Ukraine –
The January talks will see Russian officials sitting down separately with negotiators representing the United States, NATO, and the regional OSCE security forum, which also includes the United States.
Russia’s delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and the US delegation by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
Ukraine, which wants to join NATO but has been told it is far from being ready to win acceptance, is eager not to be cut out of any wider deal.
US officials have been at pains to insist that no decision will be taken behind the Ukrainians’ backs and that while US troops would not be sent to defend the country against Russia, ongoing deliveries of weapons and other military assistance are set to expand if Moscow attacks.
Rescuers were desperately searching for survivors early Sunday after dozens of devastating tornadoes tore through six US states, leaving at least 83 people dead, dozens missing and towns in ruin.
President Joe Biden called the wave of tornadoes, including one that travelled more than 200 miles, “one of the largest” storm outbreaks in American history.
“It’s a tragedy,” a shaken Biden, who pledged support for the affected states, said in televised comments. “And we still don’t know how many lives are lost and the full extent of the damage.”
Scores of search and rescue officials were helping stunned citizens across the US heartland sift through the rubble of their homes and businesses overnight.
More than 70 people are believed to have been killed in Kentucky alone, many of the workers at a candle factory, while at least six died in an Amazon warehouse in Illinois where they were on the night shift processing orders ahead of Christmas.
“This event is the worst, most devastating, most deadly tornado event in Kentucky’s history,” said state governor Andy Beshear, adding he fears “we will have lost more than 100 people.”
“The devastation is unlike anything I have seen in my life, and I have trouble putting it into words,” he told reporters.
Beshear has declared a state of emergency.
The tornado that smashed through Kentucky had rumbled along the ground for over 200 miles (320 kilometers), Beshear said, one of the longest on record.
The longest a US tornado has ever tracked along the ground was a 219-mile storm in Missouri in 1925. It claimed 695 lives.
‘Like a bomb’
The western Kentucky town of Mayfield was reduced to “matchsticks,” its mayor Kathy O’Nan told CNN.
The small town of 10,000 people was described as “ground zero” by officials, and appeared post-apocalyptic: city blocks leveled; historic homes and buildings beaten down to their slabs; tree trunks stripped of their branches; cars overturned in fields.
Some Christmas decorations could still be seen by the side of the road.
Beshear said there were 110 people working at the candle factory when the storm hit, causing the roof to collapse.
Forty people have been rescued, but it would be “a miracle if anybody else is found alive,” he said.
CNN played a heart-rending plea posted on Facebook by a factory employee.
“We are trapped, please, y’all, get us some help,” a woman says, her voice quavering as a co-worker can be heard moaning in the background.
“We are at the candle factory in Mayfield… Please, y’all. Pray for us.”
The woman, Kyanna Parsons-Perez, was rescued after being pinned under a water fountain.
“It looks like a bomb has exploded,” 31-year-old Mayfield resident Alex Goodman told AFP.
David Norseworthy, a 69-year-old builder in Mayfield, said the storm blew off his roof and front porch while the family hid in a shelter.
“We never had anything like that here,” he told AFP.
In one demonstration of the storms’ power on Saturday, when winds derailed a 27-car train near Earlington, Kentucky, one car was blown 75 yards up a hill and another landed on a house. No one was hurt.
‘Pretty much destroyed’
Reports put the total number of tornadoes across the region at around 30.
At least 13 people were killed in other storm-hit states, including at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, bringing the total toll to 83.
In Arkansas, at least one person died when a tornado “pretty much destroyed” nursing home in Monette, a county official said.
Another person died elsewhere in the state.
Four people died in Tennessee, while one died in Missouri. Tornadoes also touched down in Mississippi.
Biden said he planned to travel to the affected areas.
He said that while the impact of climate change on these particular storms was not yet clear, “we all know everything is more intense when the climate is warming, everything.”
More than half a million homes in several states were left without power, according to PowerOutage.com.
Amazon workers trapped
One of the tornadoes hit the Amazon warehouse in the southern Illinois city of Edwardsville, with around 100 workers believed to have been trapped inside.
“We identified 45 personnel who made it out of the building safely, one who had to be airlifted to a regional hospital for treatment, and six fatalities,” Edwardsville fire chief James Whiteford told reporters.
But he said the operation had turned from rescue to focus “only on recovery,” fuelling fears the toll could yet rise.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said he was “heartbroken” at the deaths, tweeting: “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones.”
President Joe Biden got a clean bill of health from the White House doctor on Friday after undergoing an extensive, routine check-up during which his powers were briefly transferred to Vice President Kamala Harris.
“The President remains a healthy, vigorous, 78-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief,” Kevin O’Connor, the White House physician, wrote.
The detailed report said that Biden did have “perceptibly stiffer and less fluid” motion while walking than a year ago, and suffered “increasing frequency and severity of ‘throat clearing’ and coughing during public speaking engagements.”
However, these two symptoms were not considered of immediate concern and did not appear to result from serious conditions, O’Connor’s letter said.
On a raft of tests, Biden came out with high marks.
He has “no signs of heart failure,” “no dental issues,” has no “suspicions for skin cancer,” and his eye health “is reassuring.”
One reason for that solid report maybe the doctor’s finding that “the president does not use any tobacco products, does not drink alcohol, and he works out at least five days a week.”
Biden, who turns 79 on Saturday and is the oldest president in US history, takes three common prescription medications and two over-the-counter medicines, as well as wearing contact lenses, the letter revealed.
He measures five feet, 11.65 inches (1.82 meters), weighs 184 pounds (83.46 kg) and has a body mass index of 25.
A smiling Biden returned to the White House from his checkup at Walter Reed hospital earlier, saying “I feel great.”
“We’re in great shape,” he said, wearing his trademark aviator sunglasses.
– Historic 1.25 hours –
While the annual visit to Walter Reed hospital was routine for a president, the requirement for Biden to transfer power while sedated during a colonoscopy exam made history.
For one hour and 25 minutes, Harris was the first woman to hold presidential power in the United States. She is already the first female vice president.
The White House press office said that official letters to Congress declaring the temporary transfer of power were sent at 10:10 am (1510 GMT). “The president resumed his duties at 11:35 am,” (1635 GMT), the White House said in a statement.
“Today that was another chapter in that history for many women, young girls across the country,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, noting Harris’ trailblazing role.
Harris made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020, before being picked as Biden’s running mate. While holding the temporary presidential reins she continued to “work from her office in the West Wing,” Psaki said.
Psaki noted that a similar temporary transfer of power, “following the process set out in the Constitution,” had been carried out when president George W. Bush underwent the same procedure in 2002 and 2007.
The details on Biden’s health were being closely watched, given speculation on whether he will stand by his stated intention to seek a second term in 2024.
– Crucial moment in presidency –
The positive medical assessment mirrored an earlier letter from Biden’s physician during his election campaign in December 2019, when he was described as “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”
He was vaccinated early on against COVID-19, and received a booster shot in September.
The health check comes at a crucial moment in his presidency, with the House of Representatives voting to send Biden’s huge “Build Back Better” social spending agenda to the Senate for approval. Earlier this week, Biden signed into law another package to fund the biggest national infrastructure revamp in more than half a century.
The twin victories come after weeks of falling approval ratings for Biden and setbacks for his Democratic Party ahead of next year’s midterm elections when the Republicans are widely predicted to take control of at least the lower house of Congress.
President Joe Biden on Friday warned against “violence” in the wake of the acquittal on all charges of a teenager who shot dead two people at a racially charged riot in Wisconsin.
Biden acknowledged that the verdict left him and “many Americans feeling angry and concerned,” but said the “jury has spoken” and must be respected.
“I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy,” he said, noting that his team had been in touch with Wisconsin authorities “to prepare for any outcome.”
Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teenager who shot dead two men during protests and riots against police brutality in Wisconsin last year, was acquitted of all charges on Friday after a high-profile and politically divisive trial.
A jury found Rittenhouse, 18, not guilty of reckless and intentional homicide and other charges stemming from the shootings that took place in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse, who claimed he acted in self-defense, sobbed and shook as the verdict was read, sank into his chair, and embraced his lawyer before rushing out of the courtroom.
There were scattered cheers and clapping from supporters of Rittenhouse outside the Kenosha courthouse after the verdict.
Several opponents marched around beating drums and chanting “Guilty, guilty, the whole system is guilty as hell.”
Rittenhouse testified during the two-week trial that he shot dead two men and wounded another with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle after being attacked.
Prosecutors dismissed the self-defense claim, saying it was the then 17-year-old Rittenhouse who “provoked” the events during a night of unrest in Kenosha.
President Joe Biden opened a Covid-19 summit of world leaders Wednesday with a promise to donate a “historic” extra 500 million vaccines to countries struggling to push back against the pandemic.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck crisis,” Biden said. “America will become the arsenal for vaccines as we were the arsenal for democracy in World War II.”
The pledge from Biden at the summit, held virtually from the White House, brings the total US commitment of donated vaccines to 1.1 billion — more than the rest of the world combined.
“The US has already shipped 160 million of these doses to 100 countries,” the White House said in a statement. “For every one shot we’ve put in an American arm to date, we are now donating three shots globally.”
The new tranche of half a billion vaccines will be from Pfizer and aimed at poorer countries.
Biden was also due to challenge world leaders to vaccinate 70 percent of every country by September 2022, the White House said.
In his opening remarks, he stressed that the surge of vaccines must only be donated, with no “political” strings attached — a veiled dig at China in particular.
The United States and other wealthy countries have been criticized by the World Health Organization for their plans to roll out booster shots for elderly and high-risk populations, while much of the world faces a severe shortage in doses.
But a senior US administration official told reporters that Washington is “proving that you can take care of your own, while helping others as well.”
On Tuesday, in his first speech to the UN as president, Biden told delegates that the United States had put more than $15 billion towards the global Covid response and shipped more than 160 million doses to other countries.
– 70 percent target –
Despite the development of safe and highly effective vaccines in record-breaking time, huge disparities exist between countries with ample supply and others that have barely begun their immunization campaign.
Just 3.6 percent of Africa’s eligible population has been inoculated — compared with an average of more than 60 percent in Western Europe.
The summit — technically held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly — saw Biden and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosting a wide variety of health and foreign leaders.
They included UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the heads of Britain, Canada, the European Union, Indonesia, and South Africa.
Washington will seek to rally the world around three goals, the administration official said.
These are: increasing vaccine supply; saving lives now by resolving the oxygen crisis and access to testing, medicine and therapeutics; and lastly improving future preparedness.
On vaccines, Biden will set an “ambitious target, which will require all countries to step up, so that every country, including low income and low middle income countries can achieve 70 percent vaccination before” next year’s UN General Assembly, the official said.
While the latest global coronavirus wave peaked in late August, the virus continues to spread rapidly, particularly in the United States, which is officially the worst-hit country.
Some 4.7 million have died since the outbreak began in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
Teen pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo said Wednesday she is “in awe” of White House efforts to get Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 and said getting the shot was “easy.”
Rodrigo, who has some 28 million social media followers, is adding star power to the Biden administration attempt to lure young people to vaccination centers.
The singer and Disney actress was meeting President Joe Biden and his top coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci and will record videos to encourage youth vaccinations.
“I’m in awe of the work President Biden and Dr Fauci have done,” Rodrigo, 18, said alongside Press Secretary Jen Psaki at the start of the daily White House media briefing.
“It’s important to have conversations with friends and family members, encouraging all communities to get vaccinated,” she said. This can be done “more easily than ever before, given how many sites we have and how easy it is to find them.”
Rodrigo “offered to come” to the White House, Psaki said, to deliver a message to fans that “getting vaccinated is a way to keep yourself safe, a way to ensure you can see your friends, a way you can go to concerts.”
After a strong period of vaccination drives across the United States the pace has slacked off, with young people among the main groups failing to get their shots.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 percent of the US population has been fully vaccinated and 55.5 percent have received at least one dose.
President Joe Biden prepared to throw a huge Independence Day party Sunday to hail America’s defeat of Covid-19, amid lingering concern that pockets of the country with low vaccination rates remain in the grip of the pandemic.
The president and First Lady Jill Biden will welcome 1,000 military personnel and their families, plus essential workers, for the largest event at the White House since he took office.
A fireworks display that traditionally draws thousands to the National Mall — echoed by similar events across the country — will allow the president to mark what he is calling “independence from this virus.”
A White House official said in a statement the president would celebrate progress against the virus but note that the job is “far from over.”
“He will urge every American to join the fight — to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated — and reiterate his administration’s redoubled efforts to boost vaccinations,” the official added.
During last year’s holiday, with the pandemic near its summer peak and towns across America reeling from protests over racism and police brutality, Washington saw a fraction of the visitors it usually welcomes.
After leading the world in Covid deaths, however — more than 600,000 — the United States has emerged as a model for getting the coronavirus under control.
With hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 down 90 percent since January and the country largely reopened, the message from the South Lawn will be unmistakable: what a difference a year makes.
“We do have a lot to celebrate. We are much further along than I think anyone anticipated in this fight against the pandemic,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told ABC.
But jubilation will be tempered by the White House falling just short of its much-promoted vaccination goal of getting seven in 10 adults their first shot by Independence Day.
Opponents of the White House event have voiced concern that images of nationwide partying could send the wrong message, with only 46 percent of Americans fully inoculated, and areas with low vaccination take-up awash with the highly contagious Delta variant.
Public health officials have highlighted swaths of rural America where hospitals are starting to fill up again, especially in Utah, Missouri, Arkansas and Wyoming.
Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, told NBC unvaccinated people now account for 99.2 percent of Covid-19 deaths.
The celebration will be another chance for Biden to talk up the country’s economic outlook as he walks a tightrope on his legislative priorities going into the summer.
Negotiations continue on a bipartisan infrastructure deal and fractious debate within his Democratic Party looms on a much broader spending package that has no support from Republicans.
The president visited a cherry farm in Michigan on Saturday to tout a positive June employment report hailed as a sign of America’s economic resurgence.
The administration has also sent cabinet secretaries and other officials to sports events, cookouts and festivals nationwide as part of its “America’s Back Together” celebration.
The White House — at least outwardly — continues to brim with confidence. Six in 10 respondents in a new poll by The Washington Post and ABC News give Biden positive ratings for his handling of the pandemic.
Images of a crowded South Lawn will be reflected in scenes of celebration across the country, with New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and other cities all putting on their own shows.
On the west coast, San Diego was readying to stage one of the largest July 4 parties in the country, with fireworks discharged from four barges around the bay.
California Senator Alex Padilla called Independence Day “a reminder of the American dream.”
“The best way to celebrate Independence Day is by taking a moment to acknowledge all the hard work that it took to get here,” he said.