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President-elect Joe Biden outlined a $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposal on Thursday, saying bold investment was needed to jump-start the economy and accelerate the distribution of vaccines to bring the coronavirus under control.

Biden campaigned last year on a promise to take the pandemic more seriously than President Donald Trump, and the package aims to put that pledge into action with an influx of resources for the COVID-19 response and economic recovery.

“A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there’s no time to waste,” Biden said in prime-time remarks from Delaware. “We have to act and we have to act now.”

The aid package includes $415 billion to bolster the response to the virus and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, some $1 trillion in direct relief to households, and roughly $440 billion for small businesses and communities particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

Stimulus payment checks would be issued for $1,400 – on top of the $600 checks delivered by the last congressional stimulus legislation. Supplemental unemployment insurance would also increase to $400 a week from $300 a week now and would be extended to September.

Biden’s plan is meant to kick off his time in office with a large bill that sets his short-term agenda into motion quickly: helping the economy and getting a handle on a virus that has killed more than 385,000 people in the United States as of Thursday.

It also provides a sharp contrast with Trump, who spent the last months of his administration seeking to undermine Biden’s election victory rather than focusing on additional coronavirus relief.

Trump, who leaves office on Wednesday, did support $2,000 payments to Americans, however. Many Republicans in Congress balked at the price tag for such payments.

Biden will face similar hurdles with his proposals, which come on the heels of a $900 billion aid package Congress passed in December.

But he will be helped by the fact that his fellow Democrats will control both the House and the Senate. Chuck Schumer, who is about to lead a narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that Biden’s package was “the right approach” and pledged to begin working on legislation.

The incoming president will seek to pass the legislation even as his predecessor faces an impeachment trial.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on Wednesday, making him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. Ten of his fellow Republicans joined Democrats to charge him with inciting an insurrection in last week’s deadly rampage at the Capitol.

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The impeachment proceedings threaten to hang over the beginning of Biden’s term, and Biden has encouraged lawmakers to handle the trial while also moving forward with his agenda.

Transition officials said Biden’s plan will be a rescue package that will be followed up with another recovery package in the coming weeks.

The plan would extend moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions until September and include funding for rental and utility assistance.

The president-elect also called on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the package will include assistance to fight hunger.

“I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but failure to do so will cost us dearly,” Biden said, adding that economists, financial institutions and Wall Street banks supported the need for stimulus.

“If we invest now boldly, smartly, with unwavering focus on American workers and families we will strengthen our economy, reduce inequality and put our nation’s long-term finances on the most sustainable course.”

The coronavirus relief-related funds will go toward a national vaccine program, testing, investments for workers to do vaccine outreach and contact tracing, and money for states.

“The vaccines offer so much hope … but the vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far,” Biden said, adding that on Friday he would set out his plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days after taking office.

“This will be one of the most challenging operations efforts we’ve ever undertaken as a nation. We’ll have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated.”

Pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions have cost millions of U.S. jobs. The Biden plan – if enacted – would buy more time for the economy to bridge the period until the distribution of vaccines allows for a wider resumption of economic activity.

U.S. equity index futures were little changed after Biden’s speech, details of which emerged during Thursday’s trading session.

“It’s one piece in the overall puzzle,” said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive at Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It bridges the gap to getting restaurant workers, airline workers and other employees back to work.”

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Joe Biden

Biden Administration Moves to Rejoin U.N. Human Rights Council

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President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the council in 2018, but the Biden administration plans to “engage with it in a principled fashion” going forward.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is scheduled to announce that the United States will “re-engage” with the United Nations Human Rights Council as an observer

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will move on Monday to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council, nearly three years after President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from it, a senior State Department official said on Sunday.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is scheduled to announce that the United States will “re-engage” with the council as an observer, the official said. “We intend to do so knowing that the most effective way to reform and improve the council is to engage with it in a principled fashion.”

Mr. Trump withdrew from the council, the world’s most important human rights body, in 2018 over what he and his allies called unfair targeting of Israel. The departure made the United States the first country to leave voluntarily.

President Biden pledged during the presidential campaign to rejoin the council and help overhaul. But doing so is likely to cause a political backlash: Mr. Trump’s allies have warned that rejoining would effectively allow the body to continue ignoring human rights abuses committed by council members such as Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.

Nikki R. Haley, who was the American ambassador to the United Nations when Mr. Trump withdrew from the council, has called it “a cesspool of political bias” and has warned against rejoining.

“If Biden rejoins the council whose membership includes dictatorial regimes & some of the world’s worst human rights violators,” Ms. Haley wrote on Twitter last month, “it will fly in the face of our fight for human rights.”

The United States will return to the council as a nonvoting observer, and full membership will be assessed later this year. The move, reported earlier by The Associated Press, comes at a time when nations facing widespread criticism for human rights abuses have tried to influence how the council assesses wrongdoing. China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela are all members.

At the same time, critics of the council have long accused it of dysfunction and of turning a blind eye to abuse by some members while punishing others. Last week, 40 House Republicans signed a letter urging Mr. Biden to rethink rejoining, saying the council was “disproportionately targeting” Israel over other members.

“Israel is the only country to be a permanent item on the council’s agenda,” the letter read. “This past year, the 43rd Human Rights Council Session adopted five resolutions condemning Israel, and only one each targeting Iran, Syria and North Korea.”

There are signs that the council is taking steps to change on its own. In January, Fiji, a nation with a record of supporting human rights causes, won election as president, a position that allows significant influence over setting the group’s priorities.

In recent years, Fiji has backed investigations into reported abuses in Venezuela, Belarus, Syria and Yemen, while encountering opposition from other members, including China.

The Biden administration is framing its decision as a way to accelerate those changes, and to rejoin a global community that Mr. Trump largely shunned during his time in office. In his first few weeks, Mr. Biden has rejoined the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization, two frequent targets of the former president.

“We know that the council has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world,” the State Department official said in a statement. “By being present at the table, we seek to reform it and ensure it can live up to that potential.”

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Joe Biden

WATCH: Biden already working to rejoin Iran Nuclear Deal: report

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Senior Strategic Analyst General Jack Keane argues the U.S. has ‘got to be tougher’ when negotiating a new nuclear deal with Iran.

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Joe Biden

Pence Urges Biden to ‘Stand Up to Chinese Aggression’ in Indo-Pacific

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Vice President Mike Pence urged President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.

“As a new American administration prepares to take office, we do well to remember as Americans that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” Pence said at the Naval Air Station Lemoore in Jan. 17. “And a free and open Indo-Pacific is essential to our prosperity, our security and the vitality of freedom in the world.”

The vice president said that the CCP “is determined to expand Beijing’s influence across the region through military provocations and dead diplomacy.”

“I urge the incoming administration to stay the course. Do what we’ve done. Stand up to Chinese aggression and trade abuses. Stand strong for a free and open Indo-Pacific and put America and our freedom-loving allies first,” Pence said.

Pence made the remarks during the last week of his service as the vice president and just days after the U.S. Department of State declassified a document outlining the administration’s overarching strategy in the Indo-Pacific. The strategy, in place since 2017, emphasized working with regional allies to counter the CCP’s ambitions in the region and highlighted Taiwan’s role in combating the Chinese regime’s military aggression.

“Beijing is increasingly pressuring Indo-Pacific nations to subordinate their freedom and sovereignty to a ‘common destiny’ envisioned by the Chinese Communist Party,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in a memo dated Jan. 5 that accompanied the declassified document. “The U.S. approach is different. We seek to ensure that our allies and partners … can preserve and protect their sovereignty.”

The document, titled U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, describes how the Chinese regime poses a threat to the United States and like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific.

“China aims to dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships in the region. China will exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds,” the strategy document states. “Chinese economic, diplomatic, and military influence will continue to increase in the near-term and challenge the U.S. ability to achieve its national interests in the Indo-Pacific region.”

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In terms of confronting the Chinese military, the U.S. strategy committed to “devise and implement a defense strategy capable of” three objectives: deny China sustained air and sea dominance inside the “first island chain” in a conflict; defend the first island chain nations, including Taiwan; and dominate all domains outside the first island chain.

The first island chain is an arbitrary demarcation from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, Taiwan, the Philippines, to Indonesia. For decades, China’s military strategists have seen the first island chain as a barrier to the regime projecting its air and naval power to the second island chain and beyond. The second chain stretches from Japan to Guam and Papua New Guinea.

The U.S. strategy would “enable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defense strategy and capabilities that will help ensure its security, freedom from coercion, resilience, and ability to engage China on its own terms,” the document adds.

Experts noted that the document’s language on Taiwan is a deviation from the U.S. government’s longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity”—meaning not clearly stating whether the U.S. government would defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China.

Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan despite its de facto nation-state status, with its own democratically elected government, military, and currency. The Chinese regime has repeatedly threatened to use military force to bring the island under its control.

(NTD)

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