The White House called Wednesday for the immediate release by Chinese authorities of detained democracy advocates in Hong Kong, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen.
“Freedom of expression (is) critical to prosperous and secure societies,” principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
The United States calls on authorities in China and Hong Kong “to cease targeting Hong Kong’s advocates and to immediately release (those) who had been unjustly detained and charged, like the cardinal Joseph Zen,” she said.
US President Joe Biden’s administration will include more taxes on the wealthiest Americans in its 2023 budget proposal, due to be released on Monday, US media reported Saturday.
The “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” would require the 700 or so American households worth more than $100 million to pay at least 20 percent on their full income, the Washington Post and other US media reported, citing a White House document.
“This minimum tax would make sure that the wealthiest Americans no longer pay a tax rate lower than teachers and firefighters,” said the document, cited by the Post.
A study by the Biden administration this autumn found that 400 billionaire households paid an average of only 8.2 percent in taxes on their income between 2010 and 2018, a rate often well below that of many American households.
The tax would also target unrealized gains in the value of liquid assets, such as stocks, which are not taxed until they are sold.
The new measure, which requires congressional approval to be enacted, could raise up to $360 billion in new revenue over ten years, the document cited by the Post said.
A longstanding goal of the political left, the plan could dramatically change the tax paid by US billionaires.
Tech titan Elon Musk would, for example, have to pay an additional $50 billion in taxes, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos some $35 billion more, according to calculations by University of California Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, cited by the Post.
Britain on Friday urged its nationals in Ukraine to “leave now while commercial means are still available” amid fears about an escalation of the crisis on the Russia/Ukraine border.
The Foreign Office “now advises against all travel to Ukraine. British nationals in Ukraine should leave now while commercial means are still available”, it said in an update on its website.
Also on Friday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called on Americans to immediately leave Ukraine, warning a Russian attack “is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians.”
The United States also updated its travel advisory on Ukraine to a level 4, the highest in its four-tier system, on Thursday. The U.S. Department of State urged Americans not to travel to Ukraine “due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19.”
A US federal appeals court on Thursday rejected former president Donald Trump’s bid to prevent the release of White House records relating to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The appeals court agreed with a lower court ruling that President Joe Biden could waive executive privilege on the records so that they could be handed over to a Congressional panel investigating the violence by Trump supporters.
Trump, who has been accused of fomenting the attack on the US Congress, sought to exercise his privilege as a former president to keep the documents and phone records that might relate to the attack a secret.
But the court said Biden’s judgment carried more weight in the case.
“The right of a former president certainly enjoys no greater weight than that of the incumbent,” the appeals court said in its ruling.
“In this case, President Biden, as the head of the Executive Branch, has specifically found that Congress has demonstrated a compelling need for these very documents and that disclosure is in the best interests of the nation,” the court said.
Supreme Court Appeal Expected
The ruling did not trigger the immediate release of the records. The appeals court said that Trump’s lawyers would have two weeks to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
There, Trump’s attorneys are expected to request a new freeze on the release while the high court reviews the unprecedented case.
“Regardless of today’s decision by the appeals court, this case was always destined for the Supreme Court,” said Trump spokeswoman Liz Harrington.
“President Trump’s duty to defend the Constitution and the Office of the Presidency continues, and he will keep fighting for every American and every future administration.”
The appeals court said the public interest was greater than Trump’s own in relation to the records, which are held by the National Archives.
“That public interest is heightened when, as here, the legislature is proceeding with urgency to prevent violent attacks on the federal government and disruptions to the peaceful transfer of power,” it said.
The records are sought by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 violence, in which hundreds of Trump supporters forced the shutdown of Congress and delayed a joint session to confirm that Joe Biden had won the November 2020 election over Trump and would become president.
“We applaud the Court’s decisive ruling, which respects the Select Committee’s interest in obtaining White House records and the President’s judgment in allowing those records to be produced,” the special committee’s Democratic chairman Representative Bennie Thompson and Republican vice-chair Liz Cheney said in a joint statement Thursday.
Documents that Trump hoped to block include records from his top aides and memos to his former press secretary.
The more than 770 pages include records of his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, his former senior advisor Stephen Miller and his former deputy counsel Patrick Philbin.
Trump had also hoped to block the release of the White House Daily Diary — a record of his activities, trips, briefings, and phone calls.
Another trove of documents Trump does not want Congress to see includes memos to his former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, a handwritten note on the January 6 events, and a draft text of his speech at the “Save America” rally, which preceded the attack.
“Today, the Courts have once again rejected the former President’s campaign to obstruct Congress’s investigation into the January 6th insurrection,” Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after the ruling.
“No one can be allowed to stand in the way of the truth – particularly not the previous President, who incited the insurrection.”
The January 6 committee meanwhile continued to push ahead in its investigation.
Witness and document requests indicate it is seeking to determine whether the White House played a role in encouraging or even plotting the January 6 attack as part of Trump’s effort to prevent Biden from taking office.
Cheney, the committee’s vice-chair, said it had now heard from nearly 300 witnesses, including four on Thursday: former Trump aide and Pentagon official Kash Patel; Ali Alexander, who helped organize the pro-Trump rally at the White House before the Capitol attack; and two others.
When Trump political consultant Steve Bannon refused to testify on his role on January 6, he was held in contempt, and then arrested by the Justice Department.
Next week, the committee is expected to also rule Meadows in contempt for refusing to testify.
“The investigation is firing on all cylinders,” Cheney said on Twitter.
“President Trump is trying to hide what happened on January 6th and to delay and obstruct. We will not let that happen.”
His public schedule, issued the previous night, listed only the traditional ceremony to “pardon” a turkey ahead of Thanksgiving and departure for a weekend at home in Delaware.
During a colonoscopy examination, Biden will be anesthetized and as in past practice the vice president will assume power, which includes control over the US armed forces and the nuclear weapons arsenal.
“President Biden will transfer power to the vice president for the brief period of time when he is under anesthesia. The vice president will work from her office in the West Wing during this time,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Harris, 57, is the first woman to hold the vice presidency and made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020, before being picked as Biden’s running mate. However briefly, her temporary holding of presidential powers will also make history.
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.
Psaki said that a written “summary” of the findings from the president’s exam would be released “later this afternoon.”
Any details on Biden’s health are sure to be closely watched, given speculation on whether he will stand by his stated intention to seek a second term in 2024.
Biden pledged before his election a year ago to be “totally transparent” with voters about all aspects of his health.
In a letter released by his election campaign in December 2019, Biden’s physician had described him as “a healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”
Biden does not smoke or drink, and prior to his election worked out at least five days per week, according to the letter.
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 adopting Biden’s huge “Build Back Better” social spending agenda. 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.
After returning from hospital, Biden was due to participate in the annual tradition of issuing a presidential “pardon” to a turkey, with the bird being spared from next week’s Thanksgiving meals. He was then due to fly to his family home in Delaware for the weekend.
The Port of Los Angeles and its longshoreman union will provide 24-hour service to alleviate backlogs that have exacerbated global supply chain problems, senior Biden administration officials said Wednesday.
US President Joe Biden plans to announce the commitments at a meeting Wednesday with the leaders of the giant West Coast port and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
The White House has also won commitments from companies including Walmart, FedEx and UPS to work extended hours and move towards 24 hours a day in some operations, officials said.
While more costly in terms of providing overtime pay, there are benefits to companies providing round-the-clock service. For example, truckers working overnight will encounter less traffic, an administration official said.
The announcements come as myriad supply chain and logistics problems pose fresh challenges to the global economic recovery from the worst months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that supply chain disruptions are driving price increases as it trimmed its growth outlook in an increasingly uneven global recovery.
And US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged Americans not to panic despite the rising prices and shortages of some goods, adding that price increases are not likely to last.
There are several factors behind the shortages of key raw materials and finished goods now plaguing retailers, including factory outages in countries that have imposed lockdowns due to Covid-19; unexpected demand spikes for some goods as behavior changed during the pandemic; and a nationwide labor crunch.
But the backlog at US ports has been a major contributing factor to the problem, with the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach at times having 60 or more vessels offshore unable to anchor. The California ports are a key gateway for goods made in Asia.
Officials said that Long Beach had already shifted to 24-hour service and that Los Angeles was now committing to the same.
Administration officials said they understood that almost all of the supply chain is controlled by the private sector, adding that the hope is that 24-hour commitments or aspirational pledges would encourage more private-sector players to step up.
Joe Biden will welcome Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday, in the first visit by an African leader to the White House during his presidency.
The summit will be part of “Biden’s commitment to the US partnership with Africa based on principles of mutual respect and equality,” a White House statement said Tuesday.
It said Biden and Kenyatta would discuss “the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems,” amid a push by the Biden administration to fight both corruption and inequities overseas.
The two will also “discuss efforts to defend democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, accelerate economic growth and tackle climate change,” the White House said.
Biden has vowed to promote democracy overseas. Once-stable Kenya saw deadly political violence after 2017 elections, but Kenyatta has since made up with his former rival Raila Odinga.
Biden took office vowing a new commitment to Africa after the disinterest of his predecessor Donald Trump, who was the first president in decades not to visit sub-Saharan Africa.
But Biden has only gone on one international trip and has trimmed the number of visitors at the White House amid continued precautions against Covid-19.
Much of the Biden administration’s attention in Africa has turned to Ethiopia, a longtime US ally that has disappointed Washington with a nearly year-old offensive in the Tigray region.
Ethiopia launched the operation late last year in response to attacks on an army camp by the then ruling party in Tigray, where UN officials say that hundreds of thousands are facing severe hunger.
Kenyatta, speaking Tuesday after a UN Security Council meeting on Ethiopia, called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities by both sides.”
“We do not believe that there is a military solution, and we need to urgently have all parties coming across the table in order for us to be able to ensure that all humanitarian corridors are actually opened,” he told reporters.
“We will continue to push — not just as Kenya, as a neighbor and a member of the Security Council but also through the African Union.”
The White House has offered to arrange a phone call between Nicki Minaj and one of its doctors, multiple US outlets reported after the rapper sparked widespread derision over claims a cousin’s friend had become impotent after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Minaj on Wednesday claimed she had been invited to the White House in the wake of her viral tweets about an unnamed acquaintance in her native Trinidad and Tobago — an invitation she said she accepted.
But a White House official told multiple US outlets that Minaj had only been offered an educational phone call.
“As we have with others, we offered a call with Nicki Minaj and one of our doctors to answer questions she has about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” the official said.
The Grammy-nominated rapper sparked a media storm Monday when she said she had skipped New York’s star-studded Met Gala this week due to its requirement that attendees be vaccinated, saying she would only get the jab once she had “done enough research”.
She said a friend of a cousin in Trinidad had experienced swollen testicles after getting the vaccine — claims that sparked a formal rebuttal from the Caribbean nation’s health minister.
“One of the reasons why we could not respond yesterday in real-time to Miss Minaj is that we had to check and make sure that what she was claiming was either true or false,” Terrence Deyalsingh told a press conference.
“Unfortunately, we wasted so much time yesterday running down this false claim.”
British and US health officials have also condemned the claims.
Experts say there is no evidence that vaccines affect fertility or male genitalia.
Half of the US population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House said Friday, as inoculations rise in response to the surging Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
“50% of Americans (all ages) are now fully vaccinated. Keep going!,” Cyrus Shahpar, White House COVID-19 data director, said in a tweet.
That means more than 165 million people have received either the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shot.
The threshold of half of all adult Americans fully vaccinated was reached in late May.
Shahpar said the seven-day average of newly vaccinated people is up 11 percent from last week and up 44 per cent over the past two weeks.
For four straight weeks, the average number of people getting vaccinated each day has risen, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday.
The United States is the nation hardest hit by the pandemic with 615,000 deaths.
Biden has been pressing hard for Americans to get vaccinated ever since he took office in January.
The aggressive vaccination program had raised hopes of a return to some semblance of normal life this summer, but the plan did not pan out because of the Delta variant.
After peaking in April, the rate of new inoculations fell off sharply.
Daily new cases, deaths and hospitalisations are up sharply in recent weeks, and cities like New York and Los Angeles are imposing new restrictions such as demanding proof of vaccination for entering indoor venues like restaurants and gyms.
Last week there was an average of 90,000 new coronavirus cases per day. Florida and Texas accounted for a third of them, the White House said.
That figure marks a 43 per cent rise from the previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The level of community transmission of the virus is “high” or “substantial” in 85 percent of the country, the CDC says.
Hospitalizations are up to a nationwide daily average of around 7,300 per day in the seven days. Deaths are up sharply at around 380 per day.
Breakout cases of infection among vaccinated people are still rare but preliminary research shows that when they do happen, the risk of contagion is greater than with previous strains of the virus.
And this poses a higher risk for the non-vaccinated who come into contact with infected vaccinated people.
In light of all these numbers the CDC changed course recently and recommended the wearing of masks indoors in high-risk areas, even for people who are vaccinated.
President Donald Trump left the White House for the last time on Wednesday, skipping the inauguration of successor Joe Biden as the 46th US president in an extraordinary break with tradition.
Drawing a curtain on the most tumultuous administration of modern times, Trump is being ousted by a polar opposite with the Democrat Biden intent on charting a new course to tackle Covid-19 and unite a splintered nation.
A small crowd waved goodbye as Trump, 74, and First Lady Melania Trump walked a short red carpet and boarded the Marine One helicopter shortly after 8:15 am (1315 GMT), for the short flight to the air base where they will continue to Florida on board Air Force One.
“I just want to say goodbye,” Trump told the gathering, calling his time in office “the honor of a lifetime.”
Trump will be at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida when Biden, a 78-year-old former vice president, is sworn in at noon on the US Capitol’s western front.
Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take the oath of office at the very spot where pro-Trump rioters clashed with police two weeks ago before storming Congress in a deadly insurrection.
While a transition of power will occur much as it has for more than two centuries, this inauguration is unlike any other.
Official Washington has taken on the dystopian look of an armed camp, protected by some 25,000 National Guard troops tasked with preventing any repeat of this month’s attack.
And with the pandemic raging, the general public is essentially barred from attending the swearing-in, leading to the unprecedented sight of an empty National Mall on Inauguration Day.
With the death toll soaring past 400,000, Biden on Tuesday led a powerful tribute to victims of Covid-19 as he arrived in Washington.
“It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation,” Biden said in somber remarks in front of the Lincoln Memorial, once more stressing the need to unite the country after Trump’s chaos.
– Trump snub –
On the Mall’s grassy expanse, some 200,000 flags have been planted to represent the absent crowds at the inauguration.
Trump broke days of silence Tuesday with a pre-recorded farewell video address in which — for the first time — he asked Americans to “pray” for the success of the incoming administration.
But Trump has yet to personally congratulate Biden, who first ran for president in 1987, on his win, and the 11th-hour message followed months spent persuading his Republican followers that Democrat cheated his way to election victory.
In one of his last acts before departing the White House, Trump issued scores of pardons to people convicted of crimes or facing charges, including several key allies.
Influential former Trump aide Steve Bannon — charged with defrauding people over funds raised to build the Mexico border wall, a flagship Trump policy — was among 73 people on a list released by the White House.
However, neither Trump nor his relatives were listed, amid speculation he could use the legally dubious tactic of a preemptive pardon to fend off future charges.
Former Trump fund-raiser Elliott Broidy was similarly pardoned, after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws.
The rapper Lil Wayne, who last month pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon, and faced 10 years in jail, also made the list.
Tensions have soared on Capitol Hill, where the Senate is expected to put Trump on trial soon following his record second impeachment by the House of Representatives over the Capitol riot.
The spectacle will clash with the opening days of Biden’s tenure, as the new president seeks to swiftly confirm his Cabinet picks and push through ambitious legislation — including a $1.9 trillion rescue package.
– ‘I’ll get right to work’ –
“We don’t have a second to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face as a nation,” Biden tweeted late Tuesday.
“That’s why after being sworn in tomorrow, I’ll get right to work.”
He plans to kick off his tenure by rejoining the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, according to aides, who said Biden would sign 17 orders and actions just hours after being sworn in, setting new paths on immigration, the environment, Covid-19 and the economy.
In first-day moves, he will end Trump’s much-assailed ban on visitors from several majority-Muslim countries and halt construction of the wall that Trump ordered on the US-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration, the aides said.
To symbolize the new spirit of unity, Biden has invited the two top senators — Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell — and other congressional leaders to attend a church service with him Wednesday before the inauguration.
Overseas leaders weighed in to mark the end of a presidency which has deviated from orthodox American foreign policy.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani hailed the White House departure of “tyrant” Trump, saying “the ball is in America’s court” to return to a landmark nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Tehran.
And Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the inauguration would “be a demonstration of the resilience of American democracy,” as well as “the resounding proof that, once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.”
“It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years,” he told guests.
The comment was perhaps the closest the 74-year-old Trump has come to admitting his quixotic, month-long quest to reverse Biden’s win has failed.
All six contested states have now certified their tallies, and the national count gives Biden nearly seven million more votes than Trump, an insurmountable four percentage-point margin.
On Tuesday Attorney General Bill Barr declared that the Justice Department had found no significant evidence of fraud in the election.
Biden meanwhile continued to prepared for taking office on January 20, telling The New York Times in an interview how he plans to revive the economy.
“I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first,” Biden said.
– ‘So much evidence’ – Trump still refuses to publicly concede his defeat on November 3, forcing him from office after one term.
He has remained shuttered in the White House, limiting his public appearances, and apparently holding few official meetings, while issuing furious tweets about alleged election fraud.
But according to media reports he is preparing his exit, holding discussions about issuing preemptive pardons for his three adult children — Don Jr, Eric and Ivanka — for Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, and his own personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
On Wednesday he released on Twitter a formal address on the election.
“This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made,” he began.
He recited a litany of complaints about the election, saying the Democrats used the Covid-19 crisis to force widespread use of mailed ballots, which he said were fraudulently manipulated to support Biden.
“This election was rigged, everybody knows it,” he said.
“It is statistically impossible that the person, me, who led the charge, lost.”
“We have so much evidence,” Trump said.
Supporters continued to fight against the results. Giuliani appeared before Michigan’s state legislature Wednesday to present his claims of irregularities.
In Georgia, another lawyer tied to the Trump campaign, Sidney Powell, spoke to a rally of supporters claiming their votes were not counted.
But Barr’s statement, in a break with the president, Tuesday went far to undermine their claims.
“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” he said.
– Someone’s going to get shot’ – The campaign to delay and litigate the election results, though, was turning in discomfiting directions.
In Georgia, which still faces another vote on two hotly-contested US Senate seats in early January, officials said Trump’s rhetoric was dangerous, stoking potential violence against officials.
“Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed. It’s not right,” voting system manager Gabriel Sterling said Tuesday.
And two prominent retired three-star generals, including Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn, chillingly called for Trump to declare martial law and have the military supervise a new election.
– Trump headed to Georgia – Trump’s immediate plans were to head to Georgia on Saturday to campaign beside the two Republican Senate candidates, key to the party retaining control of the US Senate.
But beyond that, when he might openly accept his loss, or map out his post-presidency plans, remained unknown.
According to NBC News, Trump has discussed the possibility with his close aides of launching his 2024 campaign on January 20, the day Biden is to be inaugurated as president.
In theory, nothing prevents another run. The US Constitution restricts presidents to two four-year terms, but does not require they be consecutive.
But only one president did so: Grover Cleveland, in the late 19th century.
The real estate tycoon faces the challenge of losing the center of attention, and his grip on the Republican Party, as Washington turns to the Biden administration.
Yet he retains strong support among voters, who could continue to rally behind him and make him a continuing force in Republican politics.