WASHINGTON (AP) — It's a proven political strategy: Underpromise and overdeliver. President Joe Biden, in his first three days in office, has painted a bleak picture of the country's immediate future, warning Americans that it will take months, not weeks, to reorient a nation facing a historic convergence of crises.The dire language is meant as a call to action, but it's also a deliberate effort to temper expectations. In addition, it is an explicit rejection of President Donald Trump’s tack of talking down the coronavirus pandemic and its economic toll. Chris Lu, a longtime Obama administration official, said the grim tone is aimed at “restoring trust in government” that eroded during the Trump administration. “If you’re trying to get people to believe in this whole system of vaccinations, and if you want people to take seriously mask mandates, your leaders have to level with the American people,” he said.Biden said Thursday that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better” and offered “the brutal truth” that it will take eight months before a majority of Americans will be vaccinated.On Friday, he declared outright: “There’s nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”It's all part of Biden's pledge that his administration will "always be honest and transparent with you, about both the good news and the bad.”That approach, aides say, explains Biden’s decision to set clear and achievable goals for his new administration. The measured approach is drawing praise in some corners for being realistic -— but criticism from others for its caution.Trump often dismissed the seriousness of the virus and even acknowledged to journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately played down the threat to the U.S. to prop up the economy. Even as death tolls and infection rates soared, Trump insisted the country was already “rounding the turn.”Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said Biden’s pledge for 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office might fall short of what’s needed to turn the tide on the virus.“Maybe they’re picking a number that’s easier to achieve, rather than the number that we need to achieve. I would urge people to be bolder than that,” he said. Adalja argued that the goal they’ve set “should be the bare minimum that we accept.” But he also acknowledged that there’s a major political risk in overpromising.“You don’t want people to be discouraged or feel like the government is incompetent” if they fail to meet a goal, he said. “It’s a disappointingly low bar,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health expert and emergency physician.Biden on Friday acknowledged the criticism, saying he was hopeful for more vaccinations, but he avoided putting down a marker that could potentially fall out of reach. “I found it fascinating that yesterday the press asked the question, ‘Is 100 million enough?'" he said in the State Dining Room. "A week before, they were saying, ‘Biden, are you crazy? You can’t do 100 million in 100 days.’ Well, we’re — God willing — not only going to 100 million. We’re going to do more than that.”In fact, while there was some skepticism when Biden first announced the goal on Dec. 8, it was generally seen as optimistic but within reach. The Biden administration might be taking lessons from the earliest days of the Obama administration, when there was constant pressure to show real progress in turning around the economy during the financial crisis.One former Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about internal conversations, said there was a fevered effort during the first few months of Obama's first term to play down the focus on evaluating the president’s success within his first 100 days because aides knew the financial recovery would take far longer than that.In one notable misstep, Obama’s National Economic Council chair, Christina Romer, predicted that unemployment wouldn’t top 8% if Congress passed the administration’s stimulus package to address the financial crisis. It was signed into law a month into Obama's first term, but by the end of that year, unemployment nevertheless hit 10%.The risk in setting too rosy expectations is that an administration might become defined by its failure to meet them. President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech in 2003 — at a time when the Iraq War was far from over — became a defining blunder of his presidency. Trump provided an overreach of his own in May 2020, when he said the nation had “prevailed” over the virus. At the time, the country had seen about 80,000 deaths from the virus. This week, the U.S. death toll topped 412,000.Trump’s lax approach and lack of credibility contributed to poor adherence to public safety rules among the American public.Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Trump’s handling of the virus caused so much damage to public perceptions of its severity that it’s important for Biden to set a contrasting tone.“I think it is really important to start telling the American people the truth. And that has not happened in a year, since we found the first case of coronavirus, so he’s got a lot of damage to undo,” she said. “This is a very serious, very contagious, deadly disease, and anything other than that message — delivered over and over again — is, unfortunately, adding to the willingness of lots of people to pay no attention to how to stop the spread of the disease.”
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s 60-day moratorium on new oil and natural gas leases and drilling permits is prompting widespread concerns in New Mexico, where spending on education and other public programs hinges on the industry’s success. Top Republicans in the state as well as local leaders in communities that border the Permian Basin — one of the most productive regions in the U.S. — say any moves to make permanent the suspension would be economically devastating for the state. Half of New Mexico's production happens on federal land and amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties each year. Congressional members from other western states also are raising concerns, saying the ripple effects of the moratorium will hurt small businesses already struggling because of the pandemic.“During his inauguration, President Biden spoke about bringing our nation together. Eliminating drilling on public lands will cost thousands of New Mexicans their jobs and destroy what’s left of our state’s economy,” Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway told The Associated Press on Friday. “How does that bring us together? Environmental efforts should be fair and well-researched, not knee-jerk mandates that just hurt an already impoverished state.”In Utah. the state's delegation asked for Biden to reconsider what they called an arbitrary decision. While it's routine for an incoming administration to pause high-level agency decisions while agency leaders get into place, they argued that such a widespread suspension of routine permitting decisions normally made in the field is unprecedented.Industry groups said the order effectively brings all regulatory activity to a halt, from routine requests that arise during the normal course of business to requests for rights of way for new pipelines designed to gather more natural gas as part of efforts to reduce venting and flaring — a practice that Democrats have targeted in their fight against climate change.“It really has the opposite intent,” said Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. “It means some natural gas is not going to be captured, and that’s not what operators want to do. They want to capture it and send it to market.” New Mexico's sole Republican in Congress, freshman Rep. Yvette Herrell, was the only member of the state's delegation to speak out after Biden's order was issued. She said she's putting her support behind Republican-backed legislation to prevent the Biden administration from imposing any permanent plans that would limit new leases and drilling permits on federal land.The issue has been a thorny one for Democrats in New Mexico, where the oil and gas industry has been vilified over pollution concerns despite its role as the state's top economic driver. Aside from funneling revenues to the state's coffers, the industry supports about 100,000 direct and related jobs.Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office told the AP Friday that the administration is reviewing the federal action and the short- and long-term fiscal implications for the state. “Certainly we all understand the critical importance of this industry to New Mexico’s bottom line and of the imperative to diversify our state economy and energy portfolio,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said in an email.The executive order includes an exception giving a small number of senior U.S. Interior Department officials authority to approve actions that otherwise would be suspended. But industry officials expect there to be a bottleneck given the amount of requests nationwide.The order has drawn praise from environmentalists, who have been seeking to rein in development across the West. “Any step toward fixing the broken federal oil and gas leasing program is a step in the right direction," said Mark Allison, director of the group New Mexico Wild.In New Mexico, activists have been pushing to stop drilling outside the boundaries of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, saying there are culturally significant areas that could be damaged by unchecked development. The fight has spanned both Democrat and Republican presidential administrations.A coalition of groups on Thursday amended an ongoing federal lawsuit, seeking to overturn the sale of 42 leases that cover nearly 70 square miles (181 square kiometers) of public land in the area. The groups argue that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management rushed public comment on the leases.
WASHINGTON (AP) — New first lady Jill Biden took an unannounced detour to the U.S. Capitol on Friday to deliver baskets of chocolate chip cookies to National Guard members, thanking them “for keeping me and my family safe” during President Joe Biden's inauguration. “I just want to say thank you from President Biden and the whole, the entire Biden family,” she told a group of Guard members at the Capitol. “The White House baked you some chocolate chip cookies," she said, before joking that she couldn't say she had baked them herself.Joe Biden was sworn into office on Wednesday, exactly two weeks after Donald Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol in a futile attempt to keep Congress from certifying Biden as the winner of November's presidential election. Extensive security measures were then taken for the inauguration, which went off without any major incidents.Jill Biden told the group that her late son, Beau, was a Delaware Army National Guard member who spent a year deployed in Iraq in 2008-09. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46.“So I'm a National Guard mom,” she said, adding that the baskets were a “small thank you” for leaving their home states and coming to the nation's capital. President Biden offered his thanks to the chief of the National Guard Bureau in a phone call Friday.“I truly appreciate all that you do,” the first lady said. “The National Guard will always hold a special place in the heart of all the Bidens.” Jill Biden's unannounced troop visit came after her first public outing as first lady. She highlighted services for cancer patients at Whitman-Walker Health, a Washington institution with a history of serving HIV/AIDS patients and the LGBTQ community. The clinic receives federal money to help provide primary care services in underserved areas.Staff told the first lady that cancer screenings had fallen since last March because patients didn't want to come in because of the coronavirus pandemic. More and more patients are taking advantage of options to see a doctor online. When the issue of universal access to broadband internet was raised, Jill Biden, who is a teacher, said she hears from teachers around the country who can't get in touch with their students because of the spotty access in some areas.“We just have to work together and address some of these things," she said. “The first thing we have to do is address this pandemic and get everybody vaccinated and back to work and back to their schools and get things back to the new normal.”
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Butch Bowers is used to defending public officials in ethics cases. But he's never faced anything quite like this.It's up to Bowers, a South Carolina elections and ethics lawyer, to rise and defend Donald Trump as the Senate plunges next week into an impeachment trial unlike any other, centered on accusations that the former president incited the mob that rampaged through the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. For Trump, the first president twice impeached, the stakes are enormous: If convicted, he could be barred from holding public office again, ending any hopes of mounting another White House bid in 2024.Trump turned to Bowers, a familiar figure in Republican legal circles, after other legal allies passed on the case. That's a notable departure from his first impeachment trial in 2020, when he had a stable of prominent attorneys — including Alan Dershowitz, Jay Sekulow, who represented him in the Russia investigation, and Kenneth Starr — standing in his corner. The first impeachment trial turned on charges that Trump improperly solicited Ukraine’s help for his reelection campaign. The Senate acquitted him of those charges. The new trial could hinge on broader issues of law, including “whether the Constitution even allows a post-impeachment action in the Senate,” said Sekulow, who is not participating in Trump’s legal defense.Sekulow said he did not expect Bowers, who has years of experience representing elected officials and political candidates — including former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford against a failed impeachment effort that morphed into an ethics probe — to be hindered by having never defended a current or former president in a Senate trial. Sekulow noted that he, too, had never done it before.“He’s an excellent lawyer with a tremendous reputation who understands the law and politics,” Sekulow said Friday.Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham recommended Bowers to Trump and told Fox News he sees him as the “anchor tenant” of Trump’s team. Trump adviser Jason Miller, who also ran Sanford’s gubernatorial and congressional campaigns, said Bowers “will do an excellent job defending President Trump.”Bowers did not respond to a message seeking comment.His strategy for Trump's defense is unclear, though questioning the validity of the trial is a clear option. Many Republicans in the Senate — the jurors he'll need to persuade — have said they harbor doubts about whether an impeachment trial for an ex-official is constitutional, even though it has happened before.The nine House managers prosecuting the case, meanwhile, will almost certainly focus on linking Trump’s remarks to supporters at a rally before the riot — including encouraging them to “fight like hell” — to the chaos that soon followed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will transmit the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, triggering the first phase of the trial.Though perhaps nothing compares to the legal and political swirl of a Senate impeachment trial, Bowers does have experience both in Washington and in steering elected leaders through the fray.He has served as counsel to Sanford and another former governor, Nikki Haley, guiding her through an investigation into whether she had violated state ethics law.An ethics panel ultimately cleared Haley. Rob Godfrey, a longtime Haley adviser who worked closely with Bowers during his representation of the governor, said the lawyer “works hard, has an eye for detail and knows the law.”Bowers worked for Sanford when state lawmakers mulled impeaching him after revelations Sanford had disappeared from the state, leaving no chain of command for five days, to see his lover in Argentina in 2009. The effort never made it out of committee. Ensuing investigations by The Associated Press into Sanford’s other trips showed he had traveled on commercial airlines in high-priced seats despite the state’s low-cost travel rules and had used state planes for personal and political trips.At the time, Bowers predicted that the governor would be cleared, saying the charges were non-criminal and “limited to minor, technical matters.” Sanford went on to pay the largest ethics fine in state history — $74,000 — as well as nearly $37,000 to cover the costs of the investigation.Joel Sawyer, Sanford’s longtime spokesman, said Bowers’ strengths lie in his calm demeanor and determination to examine legal arguments without concern for pomp and politics.“If Donald Trump lets Butch be Butch and doesn’t try to make him be someone he’s not, in terms of making nutty legal arguments and seeking out television cameras, this will be a great fit for Butch,” Sawyer said. “If Trump wants him to be Rudy Giuliani or Sidney Powell 2.0, that’s not going to turn out well for anyone.”Bowers represented Gov. Henry McMaster — a close ally of Trump — in a fight over excessive contributions, a 2016 case that ended with the then-lieutenant governor agreeing to pay more than $70,000 in fines and reimbursements. Bowers and McMaster, a longtime fixture in South Carolina’s GOP politics, also at one time shared office space.Bowers was also a lawyer for former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and the South Carolina Election Commission in litigation over voter ID laws, as well as a former South Carolina sheriff who pleaded guilty to embezzlement and misconduct in office. In 2018, he was attorney for University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley in her successful defamation suit against Missouri’s athletics director.Bowers served as a special counsel on voting matters at the U.S. Department of Justice under President George W. Bush, was Florida legal counsel for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and chaired the South Carolina Election Commission from 2004 to 2007. With degrees from the University of South Carolina and College of Charleston, Bowers graduated from Tulane University School of Law in 1998. State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman and longtime friend of President Joe Biden who has several times faced Bowers in court, said he expected the “understated” Bowers — also a colonel in the South Carolina Air National Guard — to make decisions in the case based not on personality, what Harpootlian said was in contrast to Trump’s past lawyers.“Trump won't be able to make Butch someone that he’s not,” Harpootlian said. ___Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden signed a pair of executive orders Friday aimed at offering a quick dose of relief to an economy still being hammered by the coronavirus. Both measures were largely stopgaps as Congress considers a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan from Biden. The orders aim to increase food aid, make it easier to claim government benefits, protect unemployed workers and point federal workers and contractors toward a $15 minimum wage.A look at the orders:NUTRITION AND GOVERNMENT AIDThis order aims to increase by 15% the amount of money going to the families of children who are missing meals because of school closures from the pandemic. For children who can no longer eat in schools, they receive payments to cover food costs at home equal to $5.70 per child per school day. The order asks the Agriculture Department to consider issuing new guidance that would more accurately reflect the cost of the missing meals and make it easier to claim benefits.Similarly, the Agriculture Department is asked to consider new guidance that would make all the lowest-income households eligible for emergency benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Agricultural Department is also asked to update its formula for how much money a person needs to maintain a healthy diet.The order also requests that the Treasury Department establish tools to make it easier for people to claim direct payments from past COVID-19 aid packages that could also be applied to any future stimulus packages. The administration is creating a network of benefit delivery teams to ensure people can get their aid and any other support more quickly.The order also asks the Labor Department to clarify that workers can refuse jobs that could jeopardize their health during the pandemic and still maintain unemployment benefits.FEDERAL WORKERSThis order includes an effort to promote a $15 minimum wage for federal workers and to preserve civil service protections against political interference.The order revokes a trio of executive orders signed by President Donald Trump that limited the bargaining rights of unionized government workers. Trump’s orders made the employee discipline process stricter, restricted union representatives’ access to office space and cut the time for collective bargaining. Biden's order also eliminates “Schedule F,” a Trump action that stripped some federal policymaking jobs of their civil service protections such that agency heads could fire and replace people in those positions.The order directs agencies to identify which federal workers earn less than $15 per hour and craft policies to promote that wage level as a baseline. Biden also started the work to issue an executive order that requires federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage and provides emergency paid leave to workers.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has directed his intelligence community to study the threat of domestic extremism in the United States, an undertaking being launched weeks after a violent mob loyal to Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.The disclosure Friday by White House press secretary Jen Psaki is a stark acknowledgment of the national security threat that officials see as posed by American extremists motivated to violence by extremist ideology. The involvement of the director of national intelligence, an office created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to prevent international terrorism, suggests that American authorities are examining how to pivot to a more concerted focus on violence from radical extremists at home.FBI Director Chris Wray has said that, over the last year, the most lethal violence has come from anti-government activists, such as anarchists and militia-types.“The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat," Psaki said.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Twitter said on Friday that it had permanently banned an account connected to the office of Iran’s supreme leader, shortly after the account posted a photo showing former President Donald Trump playing golf in the shadow of a giant drone. In response to a request for comment from The Associated Press, a Twitter spokesman said that the tweet had violated the company's “abusive behavior policy,” and that the account had violated its “manipulation and spam policy, specifically the creation of fake accounts,” without elaborating. Other accounts thought to be tied to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office remained active.Earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter cut off Trump from their platforms for allegedly inciting the assault on the U.S. Capitol, an unprecedented step that underscored the immense power of tech giants in regulating speech on their platforms. Activists soon urged the companies to apply their policies equally to political figures worldwide in order to combat hate speech and content that encourages violence.The image posted late Thursday by the account linked to Khamenei, @khamenei_site, appeared to call for an attack on Trump, with the caption “Revenge is certain" written in Farsi. The warning referenced Khamenei’s remarks last month ahead of the first anniversary of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. In his speech, Khamenei did not call out Trump by name, but reiterated a vow for vengeance against those who ordered and executed the attack on Soleimani. “Revenge will certainly happen at the right time,” Khamenei had declared.Iran blocks social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, and censors others. While top officials have unfettered access to social media, Iran’s youth and tech-savvy citizens use proxy servers or other workarounds to bypass the controls.Soon after Trump's ban from Twitter ignited calls to target tweets from other political leaders, the company took down a post by a different Khamenei-linked account that pushed a COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theory. Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, had claimed that virus vaccines imported from the U.S. or Britain were “completely untrustworthy.”
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A panel of Virginia legislators advanced a bill Friday to remove a statue of Harry F. Byrd Sr., a staunch segregationist, from the state Capitol grounds.The decision to advance the bill comes amid a yearslong effort in history-rich Virginia to rethink who is honored in the state's public spaces. Byrd, a Democrat, served as governor and U.S. senator. He ran the state's most powerful political machine for decades until his death in 1966 and was considered the architect of the state’s racist “massive resistance” policy to public school integration.“It is my deep belief that monuments to segregation, massive resistance, and the subjugation of one race below another, like this statue, serve only as a reminder to the overt and institutional racism has and continues to plague our Commonwealth,” the bill's sponsor, Del. Jay Jones, said when introducing the measure. The bill advanced from the House committee on a party-line vote of 13-5, with all Republicans voting against it. It still must pass both chambers of the General Assembly, but with Democrats controlling the statehouse and Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam backing the measure, it is almost certain to pass. Northam highlighted the bill in an address to lawmakers earlier this month, saying the state should no longer celebrate a man who fought integration. In the 1950s, Byrd’s political machine implemented a series of official state policies that opposed court-ordered public school integration and even closed some public schools rather than desegregate them.“If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance to this (court) order, I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that integration is not going to be accepted in the South,” Byrd once told fellow Democrats, The Associated Press has previously reported. The larger-than-life statue erected in 1976 and located a stone's throw from the Capitol depicts Byrd with a copy of the federal budget. Attempts by the AP to reach members of the Byrd family have not been successful.For several years, Virginia has been in the midst of a reevaluation of its historical landscape, from its hundreds of Confederate monuments, to buildings and roads named after people who espoused views on race now considered abhorrent.The death of George Floyd over the summer and the social justice movement that followed accelerated the discussions. Lawmakers evicted a Confederate statue and busts from inside the Capitol in July, and the city of Richmond removed some of the state's most prominent Confederate monuments from its public spaces. Other localities in more conservative, rural areas held referendums this fall and voted to keep their statues. In an unusual twist, a similar measure to remove the Byrd statue was filed last year by a freshman Republican lawmaker. Republican Del. Wendell Walker introduced the bill, apparently with the aim of needling Democrats who were pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments, saying “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” But when met with agreement from across the aisle on removing the statue, Walker asked that the bill be killed, and Democrats acquiesced.Jones, who is Black, said he sent Walker, who is white, an invitation to co-patron this year's bill. Walker had not responded as of Friday, Jones said. Jones' bill directs the state Department of General Services to remove the statue from Capitol Square and store it until the General Assembly determines what should be done with it. The same panel on Friday also advanced a measure that would make official an earlier recommendation that civil rights hero Barbara Johns represent Virginia in the Statuary Hall collection at the U.S. Capitol instead of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. No one voted against the measure. Lawmakers started the process last year with a measure that convened a committee to study whether Lee - whose statue had stood with George Washington’s statue since 1909 as Virginia’s two representatives in the Capitol - should be replaced. That committee decided Lee should go (his statue was removed in December and taken to a Richmond history museum ), and voted to replace him with Johns.Johns, who died in 1991, protested conditions at her all-Black high school in the town of Farmville in 1951, and her court case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling struck down racial segregation in public schools, and then continued to be met with resistance from white politicians like Byrd. Johns' sister, Joan Johns Cobbs, told the committee her family was grateful for the choice to honor Johns. “I am so appreciative that Barbara is being considered because what she did in 1951 was very courageous,” she said.
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan presidential challenger Bobi Wine on Friday accused the country's longtime president of staging a "coup” in last week's election and urged people to protest his loss through nonviolent means. But he suggested he might not go to court to challenge the official results.Calling the Jan. 14 polls “a mockery of democracy," the opposition lawmaker and popular singer whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu made his first public address since polling day. Speaking while under house arrest, he asserted in an online briefing that Ugandans are being oppressed by ”a small group of gunmen" in charge of the East African country. President Yoweri Museveni “committed a coup against the constitution and against the people of Uganda,” the opposition leader said from his home on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala. Police say they have orders to restrict his movements to protect the public from possible rioting. Museveni won the election with 58% of the vote while Wine had 34%, according to official results. Wine insists he won and has said he can prove that the military was stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations. “This has been the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda,” he said. But he suggested he was unlikely to challenge it in court because of concerns that a possible loss there would validate Museveni’s win. He said he would announce a decision “in a few days.”He also said many of his supporters, including close associates, remain in jail. Uganda's election was marred by violence ahead of polling day as well as an internet shutdown that remained in force until Monday, when access was restored for most people. Social media sites remain restricted.Museveni has dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since independence from Britain in 1962. The East African country has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power — one reason why even some within the ruling party publicly urge Museveni to preside over an orderly transition. Wine has captured the imagination of many at home and abroad in his generational clash with Museveni. The 38-year-old has repeatedly called for the retirement of the 76-year-old president, a U.S. ally on regional security who took power in 1986. Museveni accuses Wine of being a foreign agent, which the opposition leader denies.
BALTIMORE (AP) — President Joe Biden plans to take executive action Friday to provide a stopgap measure of financial relief to millions of Americans while Congress begins to consider his much larger $1.9 trillion package to help those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.The two executive orders that Biden is to sign would increase food aid, protect job seekers on unemployment and clear a path for federal workers and contractors to get a $15 hourly minimum wage.“The American people cannot afford to wait," said Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council. "So many are hanging by a thread. They need help, and we're committed to doing everything we can to provide that help as quickly as possible.”Deese emphasized that the orders are not substitutes for the additional stimulus that Biden says is needed beyond the $4 trillion in aid that has already been approved, including $900 billion this past December. Several Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to provisions in Biden's plan for direct payments to individuals, state and local government aid and a $15 hourly minimum wage nationwide.Most economists believe the United States can rebound with strength once people are vaccinated from the coronavirus, but the situation is still dire as the disease has closed businesses and schools. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost since last February, and nearly 30 million households lack secure access to food.One of Biden's orders asks the Agriculture Department to consider adjusting the rules for food assistance, so that the government could be obligated to provide more money to the hungry.Children who are unable to get school meals because of remote learning could receive a 15% increase in food aid, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House. The lowest-income households could qualify for the emergency benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And the formula for calculating meal costs could become more generous.The order also tries to make it easier for people to claim direct payments from prior aid packages and other benefits. In addition, it would create a guarantee that workers could still collect unemployment benefits if they refuse to take a job that could jeopardize their health.Biden's second executive order would restore union bargaining rights revoked by the Trump administration, protect the civil service system and promote a $15 hourly minimum wage for all federal workers. The Democratic president also plans to start a 100-day process for the federal government to require its contractors to pay at least $15 an hour and provide emergency paid leave to workers, which could put pressure on other private employers to boost their wages and benefits.These orders arrive as the Biden White House has declined to provide a timeline for getting its proposed relief package through, saying that officials are beginning to schedule meetings with lawmakers to discuss the proposal.White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Thursday briefing that the proposal has support ranging from democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.But not all components of the package are popular among Republicans, and that could delay passage in ways that could injure the economy. Psaki stressed that Biden wants any deal to be bipartisan and that the process of meeting with lawmakers to talk through the plan is just beginning.Biden must balance the need for immediate aid against the risk of prolonged negotiations. Psaki said that Biden would not take options off the table but later added, “Part of the discussion we’ll be having with members is, what do you want to cut?" Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the Chamber, told reporters Thursday that Congress should act fast to approve the roughly $400 billion for national vaccination and reopening schools and other elements of the plan with bipartisan support, rather than drag out negotiations.“We’re not going to let areas of disagreement prevent progress on areas where we can find common ground,” Bradley said. “We cannot afford six months to get the vaccination process working right. ... We can’t even wait six weeks to get vaccinations distributed and schools reopened.”