Connect with us

USA

Biden, Macron vow unity against Russia, discuss trade row

Published

on

WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron vowed to maintain a united front against Russia on Thursday amid growing worries about waning support for Ukraine’s war effort in the U.S. and Europe. Biden also signaled he might be willing to tweak aspects of his signature climate legislation that have raised concerns with France and other European allies.

Biden was honoring Macron with a grand state dinner Thursday evening — the first of the U.S. president’s COVID-19 shadowed presidency for a foreign leader. But following up on Biden’s upbeat comments might not go as smoothly as that fancy affair. Republicans who are about to take control of the House have shown less willingness than Biden to spend billions on Ukraine, and Democratic lawmakers said Thursday they were not about to jump back into the climate legislation.

In fact, for all the positive statements, Macron’s visit to Washington has been tempered by his criticism of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the challenges both leaders face amid the mounting costs of keeping military and economic aid flowing to Kyiv with no end in sight for the Russian invasion.

Despite the differences, Biden and Macron sought to underscore that the U.S.-France alliance remains solid and that the West must hold steadfast against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

“Today, we reaffirm that, as I said, we’re going to stand together against this brutality,” Biden said. “Putin thinks that he can crush the will of all those who oppose his imperial ambitions by attacking civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, choking off energy to Europe to drive up prices, exacerbating the food crisis. That’s hurting very vulnerable people not just in Ukraine but around the world and he’s not going to succeed.”

Both leaders at an outdoor welcoming ceremony paid tribute to their countries’ long alliance. But they acknowledged difficult moments lay ahead as Western unity shows some wear nine months into the war in Ukraine.

In Washington, Republicans are set to take control of the House, where GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party’s lawmakers will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine. Across the Atlantic, Macron’s efforts to keep Europe united will be tested by the mounting costs of supporting Ukraine in the war and as Europe battles rising energy prices that threaten to derail the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Macron stressed that the issue has ramifications far beyond Ukraine’s borders.

“What is at stake in Ukraine is not just very far from here, in a small country somewhere in Europe,” he declared. “But it’s about our values. And about our principles.”

“Our two nations are sisters in the fight for freedom,” he said.

Biden indicated he would be willing to talk with Putin if the Russian leader demonstrated that he seriously wanted to end the invasion. But the U.S. president, as always, conditioned such talks on support by NATO allies.

“I’m prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding that he’s looking for a way to end the war,” Biden said. “He hasn’t done that yet.”

In addition to their talk of Ukraine — what White House officials said was at the top of the agenda — the two leaders discussed Macron’s and other leaders’ concerns about the recently enacted clean energy law.

Macron has made clear that he and other European leaders are opposed to incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that favor American-made climate technology, including electric vehicles.

Biden acknowledged “glitches” in the legislation but said “there’s tweaks we can make” to satisfy allies.

“The United States makes no apology. And I make no apologies since I wrote it for the legislation we’re talking about,” Biden added about the legislation.

However, Macron said that while the Biden administration’s efforts to curb climate change should be applauded, the subsidies would be an enormous setback for European companies.

“We want to succeed together, not one against the other,” Macron added. He said the U.S. and France would “resynchronize” their clean energy efforts to ensure there’s no “domino effect” that undermines clean energy projects in Europe.

On Capitol Hill, despite Biden’s talk of possible changes in the law, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, one of the bill’s main architects, said, “Congress passed a law to rev up the American electric automobile industry, create good-paying American jobs and tackle climate change at the same time. I have no intention of reopening it.”

The European Union has also expressed concern that tax credits in the law would discriminate against European producers and break World Trade Organization rules.

The leaders, with aides, met for about three hours after taking part in a formal ceremony with hundreds of people gathered on the South Lawn on a sunny, chilly morning. There was a 21-gun salute and review of troops, and ushers distributed small French and American flags to the guests.

Both Biden and Macron in their public comments sought to keep the focus on the situation in Ukraine.

The state visit should provide a boost to Macron diplomatically that he can leverage back in Europe. His outspoken comments help him demonstrate that he’s defending French workers, even as he maintains a close relationship with Biden. The moment also helps Macron burnish his image as the European Union’s most visible and vocal leader, at a time when Europe is increasingly concerned that its economy will be indelibly weakened by the Ukraine war and resulting energy and inflation crises.

To that end, Biden praised Macron as “not just the leader of France” and for being “very outspoken and very very commanding in Europe.” In his public comments, Macron repeatedly referred to the U.S. president as “dear Joe.”

Still, at moments, Macron’s rhetoric has rankled U.S. and Ukrainian officials, with calls for Ukraine and Russia to meet at the negotiating table. White House officials have publicly maintained that it is solely up to Ukraine’s leadership to decide when it’s appropriate to engage the Russians and have stressed the war could end immediately if Putin ended his invasion.

Macron also raised eyebrows earlier this month in a speech at a summit in Bangkok when he referred to the U.S. and China as “two big elephants” that are on the cusp of creating “a big problem for the rest of the jungle.” His visit to Washington came as both the U.S. and France are keeping their eyes on China after protests have broken out in several mainland cities and Hong Kong over Beijing’s “zero COVID” strategy.

The state visit marked a return of a White House tradition of honoring close foreign allies that dates back to Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency.

Macron and his wife, Brigitte, came to the U.S. bearing gifts carefully tailored to their American hosts, including a vinyl record and CD of the original soundtrack from the 1966 film “Un Homme et une Femme,” which the Bidens went to see on their first date, according to the palace.

Among the gifts Biden and first lady Jill Biden presented the Macrons was a mirror framed by fallen wood from the White House grounds and made by an American furniture maker.

Vice President Kamala Harris hosted Macron for a lunch at the State Department before the evening state dinner in an enormous tented pavilion constructed on the White House South Lawn.

USA

Pence: ‘Mistakes were made’ in classified records handling

Published

on

MIAMI (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence said Friday that he takes “full responsibility” after classified documents were found at his Indiana home.

In his first public comments since the discovery, Pence said he hadn’t been aware that the documents were in his residence but acknowledged his lack of awareness wasn’t an excuse.

“Let me be clear: Those classified documents should not have been in my personal residence,” Pence said at Florida International University, where he was talking about the economy and promoting his new book, “So Help Me God.” “Mistakes were made, and I take full responsibility.”

The discovery made public by Pence’s team earlier this week marked the latest in a string of recoveries of sensitive papers from the homes of current and former top U.S. officials. The Department of Justice was already investigating the discovery of classified documents in former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and at President Joe Biden’s home in Delaware and his former Washington office.

Pence’s public acceptance of responsibility over his handling of the documents marks a departure from the reactions of both Trump, his former boss, and Biden in their own cases. Trump denounced the search of Mar-a-Lago as “one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history” and suggested without evidence that investigators may have planted the documents. Biden has said he was surprised to learn the documents had been found but had “no regrets” about how the public was informed.

The discovery of documents at Pence’s home came five months after he told The Associated Press that he did not take classified records with him when he left the vice presidency. “No, not to my knowledge,” he said when asked if he had retained any such information.

The comment — which would typically be unremarkable for a former vice president — was notable at the time given that FBI agents had seized classified and top secret information from Trump’s Florida estate on Aug. 8 while investigating potential violations of three different federal laws. Trump claimed that the documents seized by agents were “all declassified.”

Pence said he decided to undertake the search of his home “out of an abundance of caution” after recent disclosures by Biden’s team that documents were found at his former office and in his Delaware home.

He said he had directed his counsel to work with the National Archives, Department of Justice and Congress and fully cooperate in any investigation.

The former vice president said national security depends on the proper handling of classified documents, but he hopes that people realize that he acted swiftly to correct the error.

“We acted above politics and put national interests first,” he said.

Pence, who remains estranged from Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is considering a 2024 White House challenge to his former boss, who announced his campaign in November. Biden has said he intends to seek reelection in 2024, though he has yet to officially kick off his campaign.

Referring to a possible White House bid, Pence said he has been reflecting on the challenges the nation has. He said many accomplishments have been “dismantled” by the Biden administration, highlighting problems with immigration and the economy.

“We are giving powerful considerations on what might be next for us,” he said. “I am going to continue to travel all across this country. I am going to continue to listen and to reflect.”

Continue Reading

USA

Michigan Democrats pass over $1 billion in spending

Published

on

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature will set aside $200 million dollars out of its about $1 billion in spending for a paper mill in the Upper Peninsula, while also setting aside more money for the state’s economic development fund.

The spending legislation, which was passed late Thursday night by the newly Democrat-controlled Legislature, includes a $946 million spending plan and an additional $146 million to close out last year’s budget, bringing the total spending to nearly $1.1 billion.

Nearly $200 million in grant funding will be set aside for upgrades at the Escanaba Mill, located in the Upper Peninsula and operated by Swedish paper producer Billerud. The company is looking to begin making a more technologically advanced paper product that will be used as packaging for pharmaceuticals and healthcare, cosmetics and drinks.

The funding for the Escanaba Mill comes after the Michigan Strategic Fund approved a 15-year tax break last month to support Billerud’s planned project at the paper mill, which is expected to bring in nearly $1 billion in investments from the Swedish company and retain at least 1,240 jobs in the region.

The passage of the supplemental budget Thursday came one day after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered a State of the State speech that focused heavily on economic development and keeping jobs in the state.

Rep. Jenn Hill of Marquette called the paper mill project a “generational investment” and said that after the Lower Peninsula received multiple economic development projects last year, it was time for the Upper Peninsula “to have a turn.”

“The governor talked last night about providing young people with a reason to stay in Michigan. A big part of that is economic opportunity,” said Hill. “Let’s invest in the Upper Peninsula and the future of green manufacturing in our state.”

The bill also gives an additional $150 million for Michigan’s Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve, which brings the total remaining balance of the fund to $890 million.

Republicans criticized the late-night spending bill as being rushed and secretive. Rep. Mike Harris of Clarkston said that Democrats planned the bill “behind closed doors” and “waited until the last minute to make this public.”

“Democrats are starting their new majority by shoving an enormous, secret spending bill down the throats of the people of Michigan,” House Republican Leader Matt Hall said in a statement. “They gave the public and their elected representatives virtually no time to read the ridiculously over-stuffed plan before the vote.”

During December’s lame duck session, talks between Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature stalled before any supplemental budget could be passed. Democrats took full control of both chambers this year and a budget surplus that was projected to grow to over $9 billion by fall.

The Democratic-led Legislature also worked Thursday to pass tax relief that includes increasing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to a 30% match of the federal credit, compared with 6% currently, and a retirement tax repeal. Final passage of both bills is expected sometime next week.

Continue Reading

USA

S. Dakota Senate suspends lawmaker after vaccine exchange

Published

on

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Senate on Thursday suspended a Republican state senator in a rare move that stripped the lawmaker of all legislative power while keeping the allegations against her a secret.

Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, who is among a group of right-wing Statehouse Republicans, told reporters earlier Thursday that she was being punished following an exchange she had with a legislative aide about vaccinations.

Sen. Michael Rohl, the Republican lawmaker who initiated the motion to suspend Frye-Mueller, said in a statement that it was based on “serious allegations” and had been made to ensure the Legislature was creating a safe work environment for employees. He likened the Senate’s suspension to the move a business owner or human resources department would make when allegations are raised.

“The Senate will operate swiftly and diligently through the process of an investigation and provide the opportunity for due process to all parties involved,” Rohl said.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 27-6 to form a committee to investigate Frye-Mueller’s conduct and in the meantime suspend her from voting or holding other rights of an elected official. Republican legislative leaders refused to comment Thursday on the allegations that led to them suspending the Senate rules and stripping their colleague of her ability to represent her constituents.

The Senate Republican leader, Sen. Casey Crabtree said the legislative punishment was “brought after a lot of serious thought,” but offered little else on the allegations. Another high-ranking Republican, Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, said it was meant to “protect the decorum” of the law-making body.

Schoenbeck removed Frye-Mueller from two committee assignments on Wednesday.

One of Frye-Mueller’s Senate allies, Sen. Tom Pischke, spoke against the suspension, saying it was based on a “she said-she said situation” and would deprive Frye-Mueller’s constituents of their representation in the Senate.

Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, who serves as the Senate’s president, also opposed the move, cautioning against the precedent of suspending an elected representative without due process. But his objections were overruled in a two-thirds majority vote by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Republicans in the Legislature have become deeply divided in recent years. One of the battlegrounds between right-wing members and Republicans who support the political establishment has been over separate proposals to limit requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine and childhood vaccines.

Frye-Mueller said she did not bring up the COVID-19 vaccine during her exchange with the aide and that she has not been formally presented with the allegations against her.

“I have a right to defend myself,” Frye-Mueller said before the Senate’s vote Thursday.

After the vote succeeded, she exited the Senate chamber.

Childhood vaccines have long been celebrated as public health success stories, but vaccination rates among kindergarteners have dropped nationwide in recent years. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that decreased confidence in vaccines is a likely contributor, as well as disruptions to routine health care during the pandemic.

Falling vaccination rates open the door to outbreaks of diseases once thought to be in the rearview mirror, experts say.

Continue Reading

Trending