WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and a delegation of GOP senators met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv during an unannounced visit Saturday, delivering the latest show of American solidarity with the country at war with Russia.
“Our delegation reaffirmed to President Zelenskyy that the United States stands squarely behind Ukraine and will sustain our support until Ukraine wins this war,” McConnell said in a statement released after the delegation had left Ukraine.
A video posted on Zelenskyy’s Telegram account showed McConnell, R-Ky., and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas greeting him in the capital. Zelensky, in an Instagram post, called the visit “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the United States Congress and the American people.”
Later, in his nightly video address. Zelenskyy said he believed that the senators’ trip showed “the strong connection between the Ukrainian and American people. We discussed various areas of support for our country, including defense and finance, as well as strengthening sanctions against Russia.”
The trip came at a time when the Senate is working to approve a nearly $40 billion package for Ukraine, a substantial infusion of support that will push American aid to the region well above $50 billion. The measure includes $6 billion for Ukraine for intelligence, equipment and training for its forces, plus $4 billion in financing to help Ukraine and NATO allies build up their militaries.
Passage was delayed Thursday by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who demanded the inclusion of a proposal to have an inspector general scrutinize the new spending. But final approval is not in doubt and could come in the week ahead, reflecting overwhelming support in Congress for replenishing the Ukrainian war effort.
“They’re only asking for the resources they need to defend themselves against this deranged invasion,” McConnell said this past week of the Ukrainians. “And they need this help right now.”
In his statement after the visit, McConnell called the visit “inspiring” and said he and his colleagues had seen firsthand “the courage, unity, and resolve of the Ukrainian people.”
McConnell added: “It is squarely in our national interest to help Ukraine achieve victory in this war and to help Ukraine and other countries deter other wars of aggression before they start.”
It was the second high-profile congressional delegation to stop in Ukraine in as many weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., visited on May 1 with a group of House Democrats and promised Zelenskyy that the United States will “be there for you until the fight is done.”
First lady Jill Biden visited western Ukraine last weekend for a Mother’s Day meeting with Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena Zelenska.
Florida and Louisiana Lawmakers Seek to Make Disabled Veterans Education Law a National Model
ORLANDO, Fla. – Today, Representative Daisy Morales (D-Orlando) met virtually with Louisiana State Representative Beau Beaullieu (R-48) and staffers to discuss making HB 45 – Educational Opportunities for Disabled Veterans, a bill State Rep. Morales passed during the 2022 Legislative Session which Governor DeSantis signed into law, legislation in Louisiana and talked of a national model for disabled veterans on the state level.
The bill provides an education benefit to certain disabled veterans who qualify as residents to attend a state university, Florida College System institution, career center operated by a school district, or charter technical career center, but who do not qualify for the 100% eligibility tier federally, waiving the remaining tuition and fees from the institution attended.
Representative Daisy Morales had this to say, “It’s great to work as partners to help disabled veterans who have scarified so much for our country with educational opportunities to eliminate challenges they face when they have given so much for our country and allow them to support their families. My office will work closely with other State Legislators looking to pass legislation for educational tuition assistance. We love our veterans in the State of Florida!”
“Florida’s HB 45 of the 2022 legislative session could serve as a national model to provide educational opportunities to our disabled veterans and provide an avenue for their future success,” said Louisiana State Representative Beau Beaullieu.
“I’m excited that other states have already taken notice of this law,” Rep. Morales told FNN News. “It may very well become the model used throughout the nation to help our disabled veterans.”
State Representative Christopher Benjamin (D-Miami-Dade) worked alongside Rep. Morales to move HB 45 through committee to the House floor where it passed. The law went into effect July 1, 2022.
Biden to Announce Climate Actions at Ex-Coal Plant in Massachusetts
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will announce new actions on climate change that he can take on his own just days after an influential Democratic senator quashed hopes for a sweeping legislative package of new environmental programs this year.
Biden is to unveil the latest efforts during a visit on Wednesday to a former coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that is shifting to offshore wind manufacturing. It’s the embodiment of the transition to clean energy that Biden is seeking but has struggled to realize in the first 18 months of his presidency.
Wednesday’s executive actions include new initiatives to bolster the domestic offshore wind industry as well as efforts to help communities cope with soaring temperatures through programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a White House official.
The trip comes as historic temperatures bake Europe and the United States. Temperatures reached 115 degrees in Portugal as wildfires raged in Spain and France, and Britain on Tuesday shattered its record for highest temperature ever registered. At least 60 million Americans could experience triple-digit temperatures over the next several days as cities around the U.S. sweat through more intense and longer-lasting heat waves that scientists blame on global warming.
The actions that Biden announces on Wednesday will not include a national emergency declaration to address the climate crisis — something that has been sought by activists and Democratic lawmakers after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., last week scuttled talks on a long-delayed legislative package.
White House officials have said the option remains under consideration. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday declined to outline a timetable for a decision aside from saying no such order would be issued this week.
Gina McCarthy, Biden’s climate adviser, said the president is not “shying away” from treating climate as an emergency. She told CNN on Wednesday that he will be announcing a series of actions “over the next few weeks” to address the threat.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he was “confident that the president is ultimately ready to do whatever it takes in order to deal with this crisis.”
“I think that he’s made that clear in his statement last Friday, and I think coming to Massachusetts is a further articulation of that goal,” Markey told reporters on Tuesday.
Biden has come under considerable pressure to issue an emergency declaration on climate, which would allow him to redirect federal resources to bolster renewable energy programs that would help accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. The declaration also could be used as a legal basis to block oil and gas drilling or other projects, although such actions would likely be challenged in court by energy companies or Republican-led states.
Jean-Pierre declined to detail internal deliberations on such a declaration, which would be similar to the one issued by Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border when lawmakers refused to allocate money for that effort.
Biden pledged last week to take significant executive actions on climate after monthslong discussions between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., came to a standstill. The West Virginia senator cited stubbornly high inflation as the reason for his hesitation, although he has long protected energy interests in his coal- and gas-producing state.
For now, Manchin has said he will only agree to a legislative package that shores up subsidies to help people buy insurance under the 2010 health care law as well as allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices that will ultimately lower the cost of pharmaceuticals for consumers.
The White House has indicated it wants Congress to take that deal, and Biden will address the climate issue on his own.
“I’m going to use every power I have as president to continue to fulfill my pledge to move toward dealing with global warming,” Biden told reporters over the weekend in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after the talks between Schumer and Manchin were derailed.
Biden on Wednesday will be visiting the former Brayton Point power plant, which closed in 2017 after burning coal for more than five decades. The plant will now become an offshore wind manufacturing site.
A new report says the U.S. and other major carbon-polluting nations are falling short on pledges to fight climate change. Among the 10 biggest carbon emitters, only the European Union has enacted polices close to or consistent with international goals of limiting warming to just a few more tenths of a degree, according to scientists and experts who track climate action in countries.
Biden to award Medal of Freedom to Biles, McCain, Giffords
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will present the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 people, including actor Denzel Washington, gymnast Simone Biles and the late John McCain, the Arizona Republican with whom Biden served in the U.S. Senate.
Biden will also recognize Sandra Lindsay, the New York City nurse who rolled up her sleeve on live television in December 2020 to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine dose that was pumped into an arm in the United States, the White House announced Friday.
Biden’s honors list, which the White House shared first with The Associated Press, includes both living and deceased honorees from the worlds of Hollywood, sports, politics, the military, academia, and civil rights and social justice advocacy.
The Democratic president will present the medals at the White House next week.
Biden himself is a medal recipient. President Barack Obama honored Biden’s public service as a longtime U.S. senator and vice president by awarding him a Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2017, a week before they left office.
The honorees who’ll receive medals from Biden “have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come,” the White House said.
The honor is reserved for people who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values or security of the United States, world peace or other significant societal public or private endeavors, the White House said.
Biles is the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history, winning 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. She is an outspoken advocate on issues that are very personal to her, including athletes’ mental health, children in foster care and sexual assault victims.
Lindsay became an advocate for COVID-19 vaccinations after receiving the first dose in the U.S.
McCain, who died of brain cancer in 2018, spent more than five years in captivity in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Navy. He later represented Arizona in both houses of Congress and was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Biden said McCain was a “dear friend” and “a hero.”
Washington is a double Oscar-winning actor, director and producer. He also has a Tony award, two Golden Globes and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a longtime spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The other 13 medal recipients are:
— Sister Simone Campbell. Campbell is a member of the Sister of Social Service and a former executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is an advocate for economic justice, overhauling the U.S. immigration system and health care policy.
— Julieta Garcia. A former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Garcia was the first Latina to become a college president, the White House said. She was named one of the nation’s best college presidents by Time magazine.
— Gabrielle Giffords. A former U.S. House member from Arizona, the Democrat founded Giffords, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence. She was shot in the head in January 2011 during a constituent event in Tucson and was gravely wounded.
— Fred Gray. Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature after Reconstruction. He was a prominent civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.
— Steve Jobs. Jobs was the co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple Inc. He died in 2011.
— Father Alexander Karloutsos. Karloutsos is the assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America. The White House said Karloutsos has counseled several U.S. presidents.
— Khizr Khan. An immigrant from Pakistan, Khan’s Army officer son was killed in Iraq. Khan gained national prominence, and became a target of Donald Trump’s wrath, after speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
— Diane Nash. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Nash organized some of the most important 20th century civil rights campaigns and worked with King.
— Megan Rapinoe. The Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup soccer champion captains the OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights who has appeared at Biden’s White House.
Rapinoe, who was at training camp in Denver when the White House called to inform her of the honor, thought she was getting a prank or robocall when she saw her phone say “White House,” U.S. Soccer said in a statement. She showed her phone to a teammate, who encouraged her to answer the call.
— Alan Simpson. The retired U.S. senator from Wyoming served with Biden and has been a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.
— Richard Trumka. Trumka had been president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade at the time of his August 2021 death. He was a past president of the United Mine Workers.
— Wilma Vaught. A brigadier general, Vaught is one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, breaking gender barriers as she has risen through the ranks. When Vaught retired in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the Armed Forces.
— Raúl Yzaguirre. A civil rights advocate, Yzaguirre was president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under Obama.