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    US federal health agency failing on crises, says watchdog

    US federal health agency failing on crises, says watchdogGovernment Accountability Office says ‘persistent deficiencies’ at HHS have hindered response to public health emergencies The US government’s main health agency is failing to meet its responsibilities for leading the national response to public health emergencies – including the coronavirus pandemic – extreme weather disasters and even potential bioterrorist attacks, a federal watchdog said Thursday.The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said it is designating the Health and Human Services Department’s leadership and coordination of public health emergencies as a “high risk” area for the government.While that designation carries no immediate penalties, it signals to Congress that lawmakers need to pay special attention to the agency’s operations.Long-standing “persistent deficiencies” at HHS “have hindered the nation’s response to the current Covid-19 pandemic and a variety of past threats,” the GAO said in its report. “If left unaddressed, these deficiencies will continue to hamper the nation’s ability to be prepared for, and effectively respond to, future threats.”The shortfalls include managing the medical supply chain, coordinating with federal and state agencies and providing clear and consistent communication to the public and the health care community, the GAO said.The report is part of the GAO’s evaluation of the government’s pandemic response. It was released as US senators of both parties came out with draft legislation this week calling for a close study of the pandemic and an overhaul of HHS’ capabilities.Among the lawmakers’ priorities are closer congressional oversight of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an HHS agency, building out the supply chain and improving coordination from the top rungs of HHS. Some of those address issues raised by the GAO report.The report did not assign blame to individual officials, in the current or past administrations.The GAO said that of 115 recommendations it has made to HHS over the past 15 years on public health emergencies, 72 have not been fully put in place.Last year, the White House issued a plan for updating the pandemic response, but it was not couched in terms of fixing serious shortcomings.Under both the Biden and the Trump administrations, HHS has taken a back seat to the White House in management of the coronavirus pandemic even though its scientists, doctors, disease detectives and service providers carry out most of the day-to-day work.The GAO said it found “persistent deficiencies” in five main areas. They include establishing clear responsibilities for government agencies, collecting and analyzing data to inform decision-makers and providing clear communication to the public.TopicsBiden administrationUS politicsCoronavirusnewsReuse this content More

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    The leading female contenders to succeed Breyer on supreme court

    The leading female contenders to succeed Breyer on supreme court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement allows Biden to make history by appointing its first Black womanThe liberal supreme court justice Stephen Breyer is retiring and Joe Biden has said he will stand by a previous promise to nominate a Black woman to America’s highest legal body.Stephen Breyer to retire from supreme court, giving Biden chance to pick liberal judgeRead moreAt 83 years old, Breyer is the oldest justice of the court and his retirement will give Biden his first seat to fill on the supreme court, which is currently conservative-leaning by six to three. Replacing Breyer won’t allow Biden to change that dynamic but it does allow him to ensure the liberal contingent is not reduced further and make history by appointing its first Black woman.Here are some of the women considered leading contenders for the seat:Ketanji Brown JacksonBorn in Washington DC and raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson has been a judge of the US court of appeals for the DC circuit since June 2021 after the 51-year-old Harvard graduate replaced the attorney general, Merrick Garland.The DC circuit has historically been seen as a stepping stone to the supreme court. From 2010 to 2014, Jackson served as vice-chair of the United States sentencing commission, during which the commission significantly reduced sentences for numerous drug offenders.Leondra KrugerKruger, a native of Los Angeles, is an associate justice of the supreme court of California. The 45-year-old was previously the acting principal deputy solicitor general under the Barack Obama administration.Supreme court justice Elena Kagan once called Kruger “one of the best advocates in the Department of Justice”. Kruger has argued 12 cases in front of the supreme court. She has previously described her approach to the law as one that “reflects that fact that we operate in a system of precedent”.J Michelle ChildsChilds is currently serving as a district judge of the US district court for the district of South Carolina. Appointed by Obama in 2009, the 55-year-old Detroit native has also been nominated by Biden for a seat on the DC circuit court of appeals. Childs was also the first Black woman to become a partner at Nexsen Pruet, LLC, one of South Carolina’s major law firms.She has served as the deputy director in the labor division at South Carolina’s department of labor, licensing and regulation. Congressman Jim Clyburn, a close ally of Biden, is fiercely supports Childs and has previously pushed the Biden administration to nominate her as the supreme court’s next liberal justice. “She is the kind of person who has the sort of experiences that would make her a good addition to the supreme court,” Clyburn said.Wilhelmina WrightWright is a district judge of the US district court for the district of Minnesota. A favorite of Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the 58-year-old is also Minnesota’s first African American justice. Wright has previously said that fairness, impartially and respect for the rule of law have been her “lodestar”, adding that she “give[s] no consideration to whether I agree or disagree with a party”. She has also emphasized the importance of diversity in the judicial system, at one point writing: “I believe it would undermine the public’s trust and confidence in the judiciary if there were no judges who are women or judges of color.”Eunice LeeSince August 2021, Lee, 52, has been a judge of the US court of appeals for the second circuit after being nominated by Biden. Lee has worked at the office of the appellate defender in New York City from 1998 to 2019. In addition, from 2019 until her bench appointment, Lee was an assistant federal defender in the appeals bureau of the federal defenders of New York.Candace Jackson-AkiwumiJackson-Akiwumi is currently a US circuit judge of the US court of appeals for the seventh circuit since July 2021. Jackson-Akiwumi is the first judge appointed to the seventh circuit who has a background as a federal public defender.Nominated by Biden in April 2021, Jackson-Akiwumi was also a staff attorney at the federal defender program in the northern district of Illinois from 2010 to 2020 where she represented indigent people who were accused of federal crimes. From 2020 to 2021, Jackson-Akiwumi served as a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder, a DC-based law firm where she focused on civil litigations and white-collar criminal defense.Sherrilyn IfillIfill is the president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense and Educational Fund at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Before joining LDF as an assistant council in 1988, the 59-year-old New York native was a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union.Ifill taught civil procedure and constitutional law for over two decades and pioneered numerous law clinics, including one of the first in the country that focused on challenging legal obstacles to the re-entry of ex-offenders. In 2021, Time named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people.TopicsUS supreme courtLaw (US)Biden administrationJoe BidenUS politicsnewsReuse this content More

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    Stephen Breyer to retire from supreme court, giving Biden chance to pick liberal judge

    Stephen Breyer to retire from supreme court, giving Biden chance to pick liberal judgeBreyer, 83, had been under pressure from progressives eager to fill a seat on the supreme court while the Democrats hold power Justice Stephen Breyer will retire from the supreme court, according to widespread media reporting on Wednesday, which, if confirmed by the court, will provide Joe Biden with the opportunity to fulfill a campaign pledge by nominating the first Black woman judge to the bench.Such a choice would be a milestone and bolster the liberal wing of the bench, even as it weathers a dominant conservative super-majority achieved under the Trump administration.Breyer, 83, had been under pressure from progressives eager to give the new president the chance to fill a seat on the court while the Democrats hold power in the White House and Congress, including a wafer-thin margin in the Senate, which would have to confirm Biden’s nominee.Later in the year Biden would face the threat of any picks of his being blocked if the Republicans win back control of the US Senate in November’s midterm elections.California-born Breyer was nominated by Bill Clinton in 1994 and confirmed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate at the time.As news of Breyer’s retirement came in, the White House distanced itself from the development in an apparent attempt to signal that Biden had not pressured the justice.Biden, meeting private sector CEOs at the White House to talk about his legislative agenda, declined to comment on the retirement per se, saying: “There have been no announcements from Justice Breyer.””There have been no announcements from Justice Breyer,” President Biden says. “Let him make whatever statement he’s going to make, and I’ll be happy to talk about it later.” He jokes to a CEO in the meeting with him right now, “Do you want to go to the Supreme Court?”— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) January 26, 2022
    But there were no denials from the White House or the court.At the White House daily briefing, the first question from the media to the press secretary, Jen Psaki, was whether Biden intends to follow through on his campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the court, and she said: “The president has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a Black woman to the supreme court and certainly stands by that.”Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, which advocates reform of the federal judiciary, told the Guardian that Breyer’s move was “a long time coming. The risk that an 83-year-old would hang on only to see himself replaced by a Republican president and Republican Senate was growing exponentially with every passing year.”Roth added: “The supreme court is not an apolitical body, and if you care about protecting your legacy then you retire when a like-minded president is in office.”Breyer is perhaps the least well-known of the current justices outside legal circles, chiefly because he is regarded as a pragmatist and has spent more than two decades at the moderate end of the liberal wing, actively eschewing partisanship.He is the most senior member of the court’s liberal minority following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in 2020 at 87.Despite what had appeared to be resistance to pressure to retire quickly in the Biden administration, Breyer is calling it a day.Among names being circulated, the frontrunner on Wednesday appeared to be Ketanji Brown Jackson, an appeals court judge in Washington DC. Other contenders for the seat are the California supreme court justice Leondra Kruger, US district court judge J Michelle Childs and several others. Despite no explanation from Breyer when the news broke, there are clues to his possible thinking. In an interview with the New York Times last August he quoted his late peer on the bench, Antonin Scalia, who once told him: “I don’t want somebody appointed who will just reverse everything I’ve done for the last 25 years.”Whatever his rationale, there is no doubt that he had warnings ringing in his ears from liberals, building last summer, that he shouldn’t hang on to his seat and risk having Republicans dictate his replacement.That happened with Ginsburg, who resisted years of such hints, including from Barack Obama when he was president, and outright lobbying.She died in the last weeks of the 2020 election campaign, affording the Republican president Donald Trump his third supreme court pick. The Senate, led at the time by the GOP’s Mitch McConnell, rushed through Ginsburg’s replacement, the ultra-conservative Amy Coney Barrett, boosting conservatives to a 6-3 majority on the bench.McConnell said last June that it was “highly unlikely” he would allow Biden to fill a vacancy if Republicans had regained Senate control.But the court’s shift to the right began five years ago, when Antonin Scalia died suddenly and Senate Republicans refused to process Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.Had Garland, now Biden’s attorney general, been confirmed, it would have given the court a majority appointed by Democratic presidents for the first time in 50 years.Instead, the seat remained empty, Trump unexpectedly won the presidency and his first of three picks, Neil Gorsuch, joined the court in April 2017.A year later the court’s “swing vote”, Justice Anthony Kennedy, retired and Trump put Justice Brett Kavanaugh in his seat.Kennedy’s retirement essentially put Chief Justice John Roberts at the ideological, though right-leaning, center of the court. He has tried to combat rising public perceptions of the court as merely a political institution.Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law, had earlier this year written an opinion piece for the Washington Post calling on Breyer to retire sooner rather than later.In the American Bar Association Journal, however, Chemerinsky also paid tribute to Breyer’s “pragmatic approach to judging that looks more to real-world effects than abstract ideology”.And he pointed to important positions taken by Breyer.These included a majority decision in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt in June 2016 against severely restricting abortion in Texas. And a dissent in 2015’s Glossip v Gross case, where Breyer said it was “highly likely that the death penalty violates the eighth amendment” to the US constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.Breyer was born in San Francisco and raised in a Jewish family. He studied at Stanford University, Magdalen College, Oxford and Harvard Law.Hillary Clinton called Breyer’s decision “admirable”.Thank you to Justice Breyer for 30 years of distinguished service on the bench, and for his admirable decision to retire now. We are grateful for your career dedicated to fairness and justice for all.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 26, 2022
    The Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, voiced optimism that Biden’s pick will swiftly win confirmation.SCHUMER in a statement: “President Biden’s nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed.”— Daniella Diaz (@DaniellaMicaela) January 26, 2022
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    Ukraine: US puts 8,500 troops on alert to deploy to bolster Nato – video

    The US military has put up to 8,500 troops on alert to be ready to deploy to Europe, potentially at very short notice, should the Nato alliance activate a rapid response force. It’s the latest sign of US resolve in the face of a Russian military buildup near Ukraine. The Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stressed that no decision had been made on whether to deploy the troops, and that any such deployment would separate from intra-European movements of US troops to Nato’s eastern flank, to reassure nervous allies. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told US citizens in Ukraine that ‘now is the time to leave’

    US puts 8,500 troops on heightened alert amid fears over Ukraine
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    Fauci: US ‘confident’ Omicron will soon peak even as hospitals struggle

    Fauci: US ‘confident’ Omicron will soon peak even as hospitals struggle
    Biden chief medical adviser also predicts ‘a bit more pain’
    Cloth or N95? Mask disputes pit employees against bosses
    US authorities are confident most states will soon reach and pass a peak in coronavirus Omicron variant cases, even as hospitals struggle to cope with the current surge, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said on Sunday.Public health experts say schools are safe – but districts struggle to convince parents and teachersRead more“I think [we’re] as confident as you can be,” Anthony Fauci told ABC’s This Week. “You never want to be overconfident when you’re dealing with this virus, because it has certainly surprised us in the past.“But, if you look at the patterns that we have seen in South Africa, in the UK and in Israel, and in the [US] north-east and New England and upper midwest states, they have peaked and started to come down rather sharply.“There are still some southern states and western states that continue to go up but if the pattern follows the trend that we’re seeing in other places … I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country.”Fauci also predicted “a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalisations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosters”.But, he said, “we do know – and these are the recent data that have come out – that even with Omicron, boosting makes a major, major difference in protecting you from hospitalisation and severe outcomes.“So things are looking good. We don’t want to get overconfident. But they look like they’re going in the right direction right now.”More than 865,000 people have died in the US during the coronavirus pandemic.Fauci said Omicron “looks like” it is causing less severe disease than other variants, though “it’s by no means exempt from making people sick and putting them into the hospital, particularly those who are not vaccinated”.That relative lack of severity, he said, helped efforts to get Covid under control.“Control means you’re not eliminating it, you’re not eradicating it, but it gets down to such a low level that it’s essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with.“I mean, we would like them not to be present, but they’re there. But they don’t disrupt society. They don’t create a fear of severe outcomes that are broad. You will always get some severe outcomes with respiratory infections. Even in a good pre-Covid era, you have always had that. We’d like it to get down to that level where it doesn’t disrupt us, in the sense of getting back to a degree of normality.“That’s the best-case scenario. We have got to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but we have to be prepared, which is, I think, that we get yet again another variant that has characteristics that would be problematic, like a high degree of transmissibility or a high degree of virulence.”According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75.5% of eligible Americans have received at least one vaccination dose and 63.3% are considered fully vaccinated. However, only 39.7% (or 53.2% of those eligible) have had booster shots.Further boosters could be recommended, Fauci said, once it is known how long a third shot of an mRNA vaccine or a second of the single-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine will last.“Certainly you are going to see the antibody levels go down,” he said. “That’s natural, but … it is quite conceivable, and I hope it’s true, that the third-shot boost will give a much greater durability of protection. We’re following that very carefully.“And when I say protection, I mean protection against severe disease. You are going to see breakthrough infections as we’ve seen now, even in boosted people, but for the very most part, they’re mild or even asymptomatic.”Virginia woman charged for threats to ‘bring every gun’ over school mask ruleRead moreFauci also said supplies of Covid tests still had to be improved. The Omicron surge has coincided with problems which the Biden administration is attempting to solve, including by offering free at-home tests.Fauci was asked if it was safe to send children to school without a mask, in states where mandates are being removed, often due to political pressures.“We want to get the children back to school,” he said. “And the way you do that, you … surround the children with people who are vaccinated. For the children who are eligible to be vaccinated, get them vaccinated, and provide masks … as well as ventilation to make sure that you can get a respiratory infection at its lowest level of infectivity.“All of those things go together and masking is a part of that.”TopicsAnthony FauciBiden administrationUS politicsCoronavirusOmicron variantnewsReuse this content More

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    Sanders: ‘anti-democratic’ Republicans to blame for Biden woes, not just Manchin and Sinema

    Sanders: ‘anti-democratic’ Republicans to blame for Biden woes, not just Manchin and SinemaSenator confirms he will campaign against moderate Democrats if they face primary challenges

    Robert Reich: Manchin and Sinema are all about their egos
    Bernie Sanders on Sunday sought to turn fire aimed by Democrats at two of their own, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, onto Republican senators he said were “pushing an anti-democratic agenda”.Kyrsten Sinema: Arizona Democrats censure senator for voting rights failureRead more“Republicans are laughing all the way to election day,” the Vermont senator told CNN’s State of the Union. “They have not had to cast one bloody vote which shows us where they’re at.”But the Vermont progressive also confirmed that he will campaign against Manchin and Sinema, both Democrats, should they face viable primary challengers.Manchin, from West Virginia, and Sinema, from Arizona, have blocked Democratic priorities including the Build Back Better spending plan and, this week, voting rights reform.Their refusal to contemplate reform to the filibuster, the rule which requires 60-vote majorities for most legislation, meant two voting rights bills in answer to Republican attacks on voting in states were always doomed to fail.On Saturday, Sinema was formally censured by her state party. Sanders said he supported that move. He also confirmed his threat to campaign against Sinema and Manchin in 2024.“If there was strong candidates prepared to stand up for working families who understand that the Democratic party has got to be the party of working people, taking on big money interests, if both candidates were there in Arizona and West Virginia, yes, I would be happy to support them.”But, Sanders insisted, “it’s not only those two. It is 50 Republicans who have been adamant about not only pushing an anti-democratic agenda but also opposing our efforts to try to lower the cost of prescription drugs, trying to expand Medicare … to improve the disaster situation in home healthcare, in childcare, to address the existential threat of climate change. “You’ve got 50 Republicans who don’t want to do anything except criticise the president and then you have, sadly enough, two Democrats who choose to work with Republicans rather than the president, and it will sabotage the president’s effort to address the needs of working families in this country.”Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, Sanders insisted the Biden administration made “a great start”, in part with a Covid relief bill passed with just 50 votes and the casting vote of Vice-President Kamala Harris, but was now bogged down thanks in large part to Manchin and Sinema.“The president and the Democratic Congress,” Sanders said, “… looked at the economic crisis that was caused by Covid. We passed the American Rescue Plan … and we also passed along the way the strongest infrastructure bill that has been passed since Dwight D Eisenhower … We were off to a great start. “And then I will tell you exactly what happened. Fifty members of the Republican party decided that they were going to be obstructionist … and then you had two United States senators joining them, Mr Manchin and Senator Sinema. “For five months now there have been negotiations behind closed doors trying to get these two Democratic senators on board. That strategy, in my view, has failed. It has failed dismally. We saw it last week in terms of the Voting Rights Act. We now need a new direction.”Asked if he was frustrated, Sanders told CNN he was.But, he insisted, “we need to start voting. We need to bring important pieces of legislation that impact the lives of working families right onto the floor of the Senate. And Republicans want to vote against lowering the cost of climate change, home healthcare, whatever it may be. And if the Democrats want to join them, let the American people see what’s happening. “Then we can pick up the pieces and pass legislation.”Abolishing the filibuster won’t lead to a ‘tyranny of the majority’. It’s quite the opposite Read moreSome Democrats advocate splitting Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan into separate bills, in order to pass what they can.Sanders conceded that most such legislation will not pass, given Republican obstruction and the machinations of Manchin and Sinema. Bringing bills to the floor, he conceded, would really be about electoral politics ahead of midterms this year in which Republicans expect to take back the House and possibly the Senate, and the presidential contest in two years’ time.“Once we know where people are at,” he said, “then we can say, ‘All right, look, we have 50 votes here, we have just one vote here, 49 votes here. “But what has bothered me very much is Republicans are laughing all the way to election day. They have not had to cast one bloody vote, or two, which shows us where they’re at. And we’ve got to change.”TopicsBernie SandersUS SenateUS CongressDemocratsBiden administrationUS politicsUS domestic policynewsReuse this content More

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    The Biden doctrine: Ukraine gaffe sums up mixed year of foreign policy

    The Biden doctrine: Ukraine gaffe sums up mixed year of foreign policy On Russia and Putin, the president said the quiet part loud. Re-engagement has been welcomed but the exit from Afghanistan was a disaster. Analysts see much to do to rebuild US credibilityJoe Biden marked his first anniversary in office with a gaffe over Ukraine that undid weeks of disciplined messaging and diplomatic preparation.Russian ships, tanks and troops on the move to Ukraine as peace talks stallRead moreThe president’s suggestion that a “minor incursion” by Russia might split Nato over how to respond sent the White House into frantic damage limitation mode.Officials insisted Biden had been referring to cyber attacks and paramilitary activities and not Russian troops crossing the border. That failed to entirely calm nerves in Kyiv and other European capitals, especially as Biden also raised eyebrows by predicting that Vladimir Putin would “move in” to Ukraine because “he has to do something” and would probably prevail.The analysis of Nato’s weaknesses and Putin’s intentions was no doubt widely shared but Biden had said the quiet part loud, contradicting what his own officials had been saying. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, had just been telling Foreign Policy that one of the great successes of the Biden administration was that “the 30 allies of Nato [were] speaking with one voice in the Russia-Ukraine crisis”.Aides who have shadowed Biden through his long career as senator and vice-president are used to his prolix ways, his tendency to draw on his deep foreign policy expense to over-explain, but the stakes are immeasurably greater as a president, trying to stare down Putin as Europe stands on the threshold of war.The stumble distracted from some of the foreign policy achievements of Biden’s first year – the mending of transatlantic ties, the bolstering of US support for the embattled government in Kyiv and the development of a consistent policy towards Moscow – which combined a openness to talks with a readiness to inflict punitive measures and a refusal to be divided from Nato allies.None of those gains were a given in US foreign policy after four years of Donald Trump, a president who frequently put domestic political and business advantage ahead of strategic national interests, particularly when it came to Russia. Mending alliances, returning to multilateralism and restoring predictability to US policy after the volatile Trump era is widely regarded as Biden’s greatest success so far in foreign policy.His claim on taking office that “America is back” was backed up by a quick deal to extend the New Start treaty in Russia and thereby salvage the only major arms control agreement to survive Trump. The US rejoined the Paris climate accord and the United Nations Human Rights Council, re-engaged with major powers in nuclear talks with Iran, and convened a virtual Summit for Democracy in December.All those steps were in line with a broad strategy which Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs, describes as a Biden doctrine.“I think it’s a strategic reorientation towards competition/conflict with China and, the other side of that coin, strengthening relationships with partners in Europe and in Asia, both bilaterally and multilaterally,” Tocci said. “And relying less on the military instrument in order to pursue US foreign policy goals.”The Ukraine stumble was not the first time that strategy has been impaired by its execution. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was intended to be a decisive break with the past, extricating the US from its longest war so it could focus on its most important geopolitical challenge, the rapid rise of China.The departure turned to chaos when the Afghan army, which the US had spent $83m and 20 years trying to build, collapsed in a few days in the face of a Taliban offensive. The scenes of desperate Afghans trying to cling to departing US planes, some dying in the attempt, are an inescapable part of Biden’s legacy.Biden has argued he was boxed in by the Doha agreement the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in February 2020, under which the US was due to leave by May 2021. Biden was able to stretch that deadline by four months but maintained that staying any longer would have led to renewed attacks on US troops.Nathan Sales, an acting under secretary of state in the Trump administration, argued that the Doha deal was no longer binding on Biden, and he could have left a force to maintain US leverage.“When one side of an agreement breaches it serially and flagrantly like the Taliban did, I think the Biden administration would have been well within its rights to say: ‘We’re not bound by it either,’” said Sales, now a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.Current US officials argue that whether the US declared the Taliban had been in violation or not, there would have been renewed attacks on US troops, forcing a decision to cut and run or send large-scale reinforcements. The status quo, they say, was not sustainable.Putin, a ‘rogue male’ on the rampage, threatens to start a war no one wants | Simon Tisdall Read moreEven considering the constraints imposed by the previous administration, the withdrawal was a fiasco. US planners failed to anticipate the speed of the collapse even though a government watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, had warned in 2021 that without US contractors to service planes and helicopters, the Afghan air force would no longer be able to function, depriving troops on the ground of a key advantage.For Afghans who worked with the US and its allies, and for the country’s women and girls, the departure seemed like a betrayal, raising a serious question mark over the administration’s claims to have restored human rights to the heart of US foreign policy.Its record in that regard was already mixed.On one hand, the administration had taken a firm stand against China’s mass persecution of Muslim Uyghurs, declaring it a genocide. Furthermore, the assembly of a coalition of some 130 countries to establish a global minimum tax was, according to Matt Duss, foreign affairs adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, “a step toward addressing global economic inequality which is one of the drivers of conflict and authoritarianism”.“It’s an important first step and a courageous one,” Duss said. He also pointed to the sanctions against surveillance companies like the Israeli NSO group, whose software was used by authoritarian regimes to target dissidents.“​​That was a very consequential move, and there has been a massive pressure campaign trying to get them to roll it back, but they’ve stood firm,” he said.However, the steps taken against the Saudi monarchy for the heavy civilian toll from its air war in Yemen and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi felt well short of what human rights campaigners and progressive Democrats had hoped for. The Biden administration continued to sell Riyadh substantial quantities of advanced weaponry.“We’ve basically returned to the traditional US approach of supporting human rights in countries that don’t buy our weapons,” Duss said. “I very much hope that changes.”‘A lot of bad blood’Another way in which the manner of the US exit from Afghanistan undermined the administration’s wider objectives was by alienating European allies, who felt left out of a decision they were obliged to follow.“The pull-out really caused a lot of bad blood unnecessarily,” Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said. “You can call it the root cause of unhappiness within the alliance.”The formation in September of Aukus, a partnership with the UK and Australia to help the latter acquire nuclear-powered submarines, was another sweeping move in the pivot towards Asia.Confusion over UK claim that Putin plans coup in UkraineRead moreBut the protagonists had omitted to inform France, who discovered on the same day that their contract to sell Australia diesel submarines had been cancelled. Biden was forced to acknowledge the “clumsy” way it had been handled, and the rift clouded bilateral relations for months.Putin’s threat to Ukraine has helped rally the transatlantic alliance but as Biden revealed in his own public reflections, there are still serious divisions below the surface, limiting his room for manoeuvre.The president’s freedom of action on other global issues, like making progress in climate action or finding a nuclear compromise with Iran, will be hindered still further if Republicans gain control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections. In that case, the administration’s record until now, mixed as it is, may prove to be the high point of the Biden doctrine.TopicsJoe BidenBiden administrationUS foreign policyUS national securityUS militaryUS politicsUkrainefeaturesReuse this content More

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    Where egos dare: Manchin and Sinema show how Senate spotlight corrupts

    Where egos dare: Manchin and Sinema show how Senate spotlight corruptsRobert ReichThe two Democratic senators chose to wreck American democracy, simply to feed their sense of their own importance What can possibly explain Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to sink voting rights protections? Why did they create a false narrative that the legislation had to be “bipartisan” when everyone, themselves included, knew bipartisanship was impossible?Arizona Democrats censure Kyrsten Sinema for voting rights failureRead moreWhy did they say they couldn’t support changing Senate filibuster rules when only last month they voted for an exception to the filibuster that allowed debt ceiling legislation to pass with only Democratic votes?Why did they co-sponsor voting rights legislation and then vote to kill the very same legislation? Why did Manchin vote for the “talking filibuster” in 2011 yet vote against it now?Part of the answer to all these questions can be found in the giant wads of corporate cash flowing into their campaign coffers. But if you want the whole answer, you need also to look at the single biggest factor affecting almost all national politicians I’ve dealt with: ego. Manchin’s and Sinema’s are now among the biggest.Before February of last year, almost no one outside West Virginia had heard of Manchin and almost no one outside Arizona (and probably few within it) had ever heard of Sinema. Now, they’re notorious. They’re Washington celebrities. Their photos grace every major news outlet in America.This sort of attention is addictive. Once it seeps into the bloodstream, it becomes an all-consuming force. I’ve known politicians who have become permanently and irrevocably intoxicated.I’m not talking simply about power, although that’s certainly part of it. I’m talking about narcissism – the primal force driving so much of modern America but whose essence is concentrated in certain places such as Wall Street, Hollywood and the United States Senate.Once addicted, the pathologically narcissistic politician can become petty in the extreme, taking every slight as a deep personal insult. I’m told Manchin asked Joe Biden’s staff not to blame him for the delay of Build Back Better and was then infuriated when Biden suggested Manchin bore some of the responsibility. I’m also told that if Biden wants to restart negotiations with Manchin on Build Back Better, he’s got to rename it because Manchin is so angry he won’t vote for anything going by that name.The Senate is not the world’s greatest deliberative body but it is the world’s greatest stew of egos battling for attention. Every senator believes he or she has what it takes to be president. Most believe they’re far more competent than whoever occupies the Oval Office.Yet out of 100 senators, only a handful are chosen for interviews on the Sunday talk shows and very few get a realistic shot at the presidency. The result is intense competition for attention.Again and again, I’ve watched worthy legislation sink because particular senators didn’t feel they were getting enough credit, or enough personal attention from a president, or insufficient press attention, or unwanted press attention, or that another senator (sometimes from the same party) was getting too much attention.Several people on the Hill who have watched Sinema at close range since she became a senator tell me she relished all the attention she got when she gave her very theatrical thumbs down to increasing the minimum wage, and since then has thrilled at her national celebrity as a spoiler.Biden prides himself on having been a member of the senatorial “club” for many years before ascending to the presidency and argued during the 2020 campaign that this familiarity would give him an advantage in dealing with his former colleagues. But it may be working against him. Senators don’t want clubby familiarity from a president. They want a president to shine the national spotlight on them.Lindsey Graham, reverse ferret: how John McCain’s spaniel became Trump’s poodleRead moreSome senators get so whacky in the national spotlight that they can’t function without it. Trump had that effect on Republicans. Before Trump, Lindsey Graham was almost a normal human being. Then Trump directed a huge amp of national attention Graham’s way, transmogrifying the senator into a bizarro creature who’d say anything Trump wanted to keep the attention coming.Not all senators are egomaniacs, of course. Most lie on an ego spectrum ranging from mildly inflated to pathological.Manchin and Sinema are near the extreme. Once they got a taste of the national spotlight, they couldn’t let go. They must have figured that the only way they could keep the spotlight focused on themselves was by threatening to do what they finally did last week: shafting American democracy.
    Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a Guardian US columnist. His newsletter is at
    TopicsUS voting rightsOpinionUS politicsDemocratsUS SenateBiden administrationUS CongressJoe ManchincommentReuse this content More