US will stage diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics, White House confirms – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US will stage diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics, White House confirms – live” was written by Joan E Greve in Washington, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th December 2021 19.15 UTC

Justice Department sues Texas over redistricting plans

The Justice Department is suing Texas over its new electoral maps, saying the plans illegally make it more difficult to participate in the electoral process.

Minority voters accounted for 95% of Texas’ population growth over the last decade, but there are no new majority-minority districts in the new plans.

Texas Republicans, who control the redistricting process, drew the lines to shore up their advantage across the state, blunting the surge in the state’s non-white population. The suit says Texas violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.

“The complaint that we filed today alleges that Texas violated Section 2 by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language or minority group,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference.

Vanita Gupta, the number three official at the Justice Department, noted that some of the districts were drawn with “discriminatory intent.” She also noted that Texas is a repeat offender when it comes to voting discrimination, highlighting that courts have repeatedly found that the state has discriminated against minority voters over the last several decades.

This is the first redistricting lawsuit the Justice Department has filed this year. Last week, the Department made filings in three cases challenging new voting restrictions in Arizona, Texas, and Florida, defending the scope of Section 2.

A reporter asked press secretary Jen Psaki why the Biden administration is still sending athletes to the 2022 Olympics, even as the White House refuses to send a diplomatic delegation to Beijing.

“We believe US athletes, people who have been training, giving up a lot of blood, sweat and tears preparing for these Olympics, should be able to go and compete, and we look forward to cheering for them from home,” Psaki said.

The press secretary argued the diplomatic boycott clearly demonstrated that the US would not treat the games as “business as usual” in light of China’s human rights abuses.

China has said a diplomatic boycott of the forthcoming Beijing Winter Olympics by the Biden administration would be “a stain on the spirit of the Olympic charter” and “sensationalist and politically manipulative”, in what appears to be a further rift in the already strained bilateral relations.

The last time the US staged a full boycott of the Olympics was during the cold war in 1980, when the former president Jimmy Carter snubbed the Moscow summer Games along with 64 other countries and territories.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, on Monday accused Washington of “hyping a ‘diplomatic boycott’ without even being invited to the Games”.

“I want to stress that the Winter Olympic Games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation,” Zhao said. “It is a grave travesty of the spirit of the Olympic charter, a blatant political provocation and a serious affront to the 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

The US diplomatic boycott comes amid escalating tensions between China and many western countries. It was first raised by Joe Biden last month when he said he was considering a “diplomatic boycott” as pressures grew in the US Congress over its concerns about China’s human rights record, including over the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

Politicians including Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, have advocated a boycott as protest.

White House will stage diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics, Psaki confirms

The White House will stage a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, press secretary Jen Psaki has just confirmed.

“The Biden administration will not send any diplomatic or official representation to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games, given the PRC’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses,” Psaki said from the briefing room podium.

The announcement comes two months before the games are set to begin. American athletes are still expected to compete in the Olympics, even as the Biden administration will not be sending any representatives to Beijing.

“The athletes on Team USA have our full support,” Psaki said. “We will be behind them 100% as we cheer them on from home. We will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”

Psaki said the White House determined it would be wrong to deny athletes the opportunity to compete in the games, and she argued the lack of a diplomatic delegation would still send a “clear message” about the administration’s priorities.

Donald Trump celebrated the news that former Republican Senator David Perdue has entered the Georgia gubernatorial race, but he interestingly has not yet offered his formal endorsement to the candidate.

“Wow, it looks like highly respected Senator David Perdue will be running against RINO Brian Kemp for Governor of Georgia. David was a great Senator, and he truly loves his State and his Country,” the former president said in a new statement.

“This will be very interesting, and I can’t imagine that Brian Kemp, who has hurt election integrity in Georgia so badly, can do well at the ballot box (unless the election is rigged, of course).”

Trump has repeatedly criticized Kemp for refusing to attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia, and he had encouraged Purdue to launch a primary challenge against the incumbent governor.

Washington Post announces death of Fred Hiatt

The Washington Post has announced the death of Fred Hiatt, its editorial page editor, this morning. He was 66.

Hiatt died in New York, where he suffered a heart attack while visiting his daughter in late November.

A statement from Post publisher Fred Ryan, widely shared by Post staffers, said in part: “All of us who worked with Fred know what a deep loss this is and how profoundly he’ll be missed.

“Over the past two decades, Fred’s leadership made the Post editorial page into the most consequential in the news industry. Nearly every person in the department was hired by Fred a great testament to his ability to identify and retain top talent.

“A 40-year veteran of the post, he built friendships through the company and made immense contributions as a writer and editor and a mentor to so many.”

Among responses, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent of the rival New York Times wrote: “Devastating news. Fred was a first-rate journalist, smart and incisive, gentle but strong, open minded and thoughtful but never fooled by the propagandists of Washington or Moscow. Most of all, he was the epitome of decency and principle in an indecent and unprincipled age.”

US not seeking ‘direct use of military force’ over Ukraine – report

Details of a briefing call on the Biden administration’s options in regards to a feared and expected Russian invasion of Ukraine are beginning to come out.

Joe Biden and Vladmir Putin are due to talk tomorrow.

We’ll have more soon. In the tweeted words of Olivier Knox of the Washington Post, the options involve sanctions and other non-lethal moves:

“On a conference call organised by the White House, a senior administration official (anonymously) said this when asked whether Biden will warn Putin tomorrow that the US might respond militarily to a Russian invasion of Ukraine:

I don’t want to use a public press call to talk about the particular sensitive challenges that President Biden will lay out for President Putin, but I would say the United States is not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is the direct use of American military force (as opposed to support for Ukraine’s military and Nato partners, new sanctions).

Knox adds: “Biden has been speaking to European allies, and will continue to do so. He’ll speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy after the call to Putin. But Secretary of State [Tony] Blinken will speak to Zelenskiy before the call to Putin, the official said.”

The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has teed up a big couple of weeks in the chamber with a statement about Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the $2tn package of domestic spending priorities which passed the House after a lengthy wrangle and must now survive the Senate.

“Our goal in the Senate is to pass the legislation before Christmas and get it to the president’s desk,” he said this morning.

“Of course, there are other priorities we plan to address before the end of the year as well, including voting rights, debt limit, NDAA…

“I will continue to remind you that there are more long days and nights, and potentially weekends, that the Senate will be in session this month.”

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Congress is bracing for another fight over the debt ceiling. Lawmakers approved a short-term debt ceiling suspension in October, delaying a potential default, but they must now take up the issue again. Democratic leaders are considering adding a debt ceiling provision to the National Defense Authorization Act, but it’s unclear whether such a proposal could pass the House.
  • Former Republican Senator David Perdue officially entered the Georgia gubernatorial race. Perdue is challenging sitting Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who has faced criticism from Donald Trump and his allies for refusing to attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating a deal between Trump’s new social media venture and a special-purpose acquisition company, according to a new filing. Trump’s reported talks with the chief executive of the company Digital World earlier this year may have violated SEC rules.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

SEC is investigating deal with Trump’s social media venture – reports

The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating a deal between Donald Trump’s new social media venture and a special-purpose acquisition company, according to a new filing.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing a potential merger between Trump Media & Technology Group and the SPAC Digital World Acquisition Corp., Digital World disclosed Monday.

The SPAC said in October that it is taking Mr. Trump’s social-media company public in a deal that valued it at roughly $875 million, including debt.

After the deal was announced, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets reported that Mr. Trump met with Digital World Chief Executive Patrick Orlando early this year and before the SPAC had raised money. If the meeting is deemed to have represented substantive deal talks, it could violate SEC rules. That is because SPACs aren’t supposed to have a target company identified at the time they initially raise money, analysts say.

Trump has been searching for ways to more effectively communicate with his supporters since he was removed from Twitter and Facebook earlier this year, after he incited the Capitol insurrection.

Donald Trump’s penchant for four-letter words is well-known, to the extent that his four-year presidency prompted soul-searching among some US media outlets about which words could properly be printed.

The Guardian has long had few such scruples.

With that in mind, here’s our report on remarks at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night in which the former president called reporters “crooked bastards” and Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, a “fucking idiot”:

Trump pushes back against revelations in Meadows’ book

Donald Trump is pushing back against the claim, made by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in his new book, that the then-president tested positive for coronavirus before his first debate with Joe Biden.

“The Fake News continues to push the false narrative that I had Covid prior to the first debate,” Trump said in a new statement.

“My Chief of Staff Mark Meadows confirmed I did not have Covid before or during the debate, saying, ‘And yet, the way that the media wants to spin it is certainly to be as negative about Donald Trump as they possibly can while giving Joe Biden a pass.’”

In his book, Meadows details how Trump received a positive test result three days before the September 2020 debate, but the president then received a negative result with a separate test.

The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly reported last week:

Meadows writes of his surprise that such a ‘massive germaphobe’ could have contracted Covid, given precautions including ‘buckets of hand sanitiser’ and ‘hardly [seeing] anyone who ha[d]n’t been rigorously tested’.

Meadows says the positive test had been done with an old model kit. He told Trump the test would be repeated with ‘the Binax system, and that we were hoping the first test was a false positive’.

After ‘a brief but tense wait’, Meadows called back with news of the negative test. He could ‘almost hear the collective ‘Thank God’ that echoed through the cabin’, he writes.

For years, Helen Butler has been on a mission to increase voter turnout, especially among Black voters, in Georgia and across the south. She’s used to the skepticism. People she meets wonder why they should bother, because their vote won’t matter. No matter who’s in office, longstanding problems won’t get solved.

Last year, she listened as Joe Biden promised he would protect the right to vote if he was elected president. “One thing the Senate and the president can do right away is pass the bill to restore the Voting Rights Act … it’s one of the first things I’ll do as president if elected. We can’t let the fundamental right to vote be denied,” he said in July last year.

And so, after Biden was inaugurated, Butler and many others expected that voting rights would be one of the first things the president and Democrats addressed.

Instead, during the president’s first year in office, Butler has watched with dismay as Biden and Democrats have failed to pass any voting rights legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans in Georgia passed sweeping new voting restrictions, one of several places across the country that made it harder to vote.

“It is disheartening, I can tell you, out of all the work we’ve put in to have fair elections, to get people engaged, and to have the Senate that will not act to protect the most sacred right, the right to vote, is unheard of,” Butler said.

Updated

David Perdue’s announcement that he will challenge sitting Governor Brian Kemp for the Republican nomination comes less than a week after Democrat Stacey Abrams launched her own gubernatorial campaign.

Abrams’ campaign sets up a potential rematch against Kemp, depending on whether he can best Perdue. Kemp narrowly defeated Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial race, although she blamed the loss on voter suppression.

In the years since, Abrams has devoted herself to voting rights, establishing the organizing group Fair Fight to help register hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia.

Democrats have credited Abrams with helping to carry Joe Biden and Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to victory in Georgia. The gubernatorial race will test whether Democrats can achieve another statewide victory in the historically conservative state.

Perdue officially enters Georgia gubernatorial race

Former Republican Senator David Perdue has officially launched his primary challenge against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.

In a video announcing his bid, Perdue warned of the potential peril of electing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and blamed Kemp for Republican losses in the Georgia Senate runoffs earlier this year.

Perdue narrowly lost his own runoff race to Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, who was elected alongside fellow Democrat Raphael Warnock in January.

“This isn’t personal; it’s simple. He has failed all of us and cannot win in November,” Perdue said of Kemp in his announcement video.

“Instead of protecting our elections, he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein.”

Donald Trump had encouraged Perdue to jump into the race, as the former president has continued to attack Kemp for refusing to attempt to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia.

Trump is expected to soon formally endorse Perdue’s primary challenge, according to CNN.

The largest oil and gas companies made a combined $174bn in profits in the first nine months of the year as gasoline prices climbed in the US, according to a new report.

The bumper profit totals, provided exclusively to the Guardian, show that in the third quarter of 2021 alone, 24 top oil and gas companies made more than $74bn in net income.

From January to September, the net income of the group, which includes Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP, was $174bn.

Exxon alone posted a net income of $6.75bn in the third quarter, its highest profit since 2017, and has seen its revenue jump by 60% on the same period last year.

The company credited the rising cost of oil for bolstering these profits, as did BP, which made $3.3bn in third-quarter profit. “Rising commodity prices certainly helped,” Bernard Looney, chief executive of BP, told investors at the latest earnings report.

Gasoline prices have hit a seven-year high in the US due to the rising cost of oil, with Americans now paying about $3.40 for a gallon of fuel compared with around $2.10 a year ago.

Lawmakers face off (again) over debt ceiling

Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.

Congress is bracing for another battle over the debt ceiling, as lawmakers look to avoid a default that would have devastating effects on the US economy.

The debate comes two months after Congress approved a short-term debt ceiling suspension that delayed a potential default.

Politico reports:

House Democratic leaders have discussed adding a provision addressing the debt ceiling to the final National Defense Authorization Act and voting on it as soon as this week, according to a senior Democratic aide. That’s assuming, of course, that compromise NDAA language is ironed out between the two chambers. Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL has privately signaled to Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER that he could go along with this idea, which would end their months-long stalemate.

But as Politico notes, it remains unclear whether such a proposal can pass the Democratic-controlled House, given some progressive pushback to the NDAA.

And with Democrats’ extremely narrow majority in the House, speaker Nancy Pelosi can only afford a few “no” votes in her caucus if she wants to pass the bill.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

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