U.S. President Joe Biden encouraged Democratic lawmakers to “act fast” on his $1.9-trillion COVID-19 rescue plan but also signalled he’s open to changes, including limiting the proposed $1,400 direct payments to Americans with lower income levels, which could draw Republican support.
Biden told lawmakers in private comments Wednesday that he’s “not married” to an absolute number for the overall package but wants them to “go big” on pandemic relief and “restore the soul of the country.”
“Look, we got a lot of people hurting in our country today,” Biden said on a private call with House Democrats. “We need to act. We need to act fast.”
On the direct payments, Biden said he doesn’t want to budge from the $1,400 promised to Americans. But he said he is willing to “target” the aid, which would mean lowering the income threshold to qualify.
“I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people,” he said.
Biden spoke with House Democrats and followed with a meeting of top Senate Democrats at the White House, deepening his public engagement with lawmakers on his American Rescue Plan. Together the virus and economic aid is his first legislative priority and a test of the administration’s ability to work with Congress to deliver.
Biden’s remarks to the Democratic House caucus were relayed by two people who requested anonymity to discuss the private conference call.
While Biden is trying to build bipartisan support from Republicans, he is also prepared to rely on the Democratic majority in Congress to push the package into law. Democrats moved ahead with preliminary steps, including a House budget vote Wednesday largely along party lines, to approve it on their own over Republicans objections.
A group of 10 Republican senators offered a $618-billion alternative with slimmer $1,000 direct payments and zero aid for states and cities, but Biden panned it as insufficient, though private talks with the Republicans continue.
At the start of his meeting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and 10 top Senate Democratic committee chairmen in the Oval Office, Biden sounded confident he could still win over Republican support.
“I think we’ll get some Republicans,” Biden said.
With a rising virus death toll and strained economy, the goal is to have COVID-19 relief approved by March, when extra unemployment assistance and other pandemic aid measures expire. Money for vaccine distributions, direct payments to households, school reopenings and business aid are at stake.
As lawmakers in Congress begin drafting the details, Biden is taking care to politically back up his allies while also ensuring that the final product fulfils his promise for bold relief to a battered nation.
House Democrats were told on the call with the president that they could be flexible on some numbers and programs, but should not back down on the size or scope of the aid.
“We have to go big, not small,” Biden told the Democrats. “I’ve got your back, and you’ve got mine.”
As the White House reaches for a bipartisan bill, House and Senate Democrats have launched a lengthy budget process for approving Biden’s bill with or without Republican support.
“We want to do it bipartisan, but we must be strong,” Schumer said after the 90-minute session at the White House. Democrats are “working with our Republican friends, when we can.”
The swift action follows Tuesday’s outreach as Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined the Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting, both declaring the Republicans’ $618-billion offer was too small. Both Biden and Yellen recalled the lessons of the government response to the 2009 financial crisis, which some have since said was inadequate as conditions worsened.
Earlier in the week, Biden met with 10 Republican senators who were pitching their $618-billion alternative, and told them he won’t delay aid in hopes of winning GOP support even as talks continue.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticized the Democrats for pressing ahead largely on their own as the GOP senators try to provide bipartisan alternatives.
“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” McConnell said. “That’s unfortunate.”
The two sides are far apart. The cornerstone of the GOP plan is $160 billion for the health-care response — vaccine distribution, a “massive expansion” of testing, protective gear and money for rural hospitals, similar to what Biden has proposed for aid specific to the pandemic.
But from there, the two plans drastically diverge. Biden proposes $170 billion for schools, compared with $20 billion in the Republican plan. Republicans also would give nothing to states, money that Democrats argue is just as important, with $350 billion in Biden’s plan to keep police, fire and other workers on the job.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 2:20 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 792,438 cases of COVID-19 — with 47,690 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 20,487.
Health officials in British Columbia on Thursday announced new safety measures for schools. Wearing masks is now mandatory for both staff and students inside high schools and middle schools. Wearing masks indoors is still optional for the province’s elementary students.
WATCH | Manitoba may take steps to reopen:
Manitoba is considering loosening pandemic restrictions as of Feb. 13 as its COVID-19 case count continues heading in the right direction. The province is asking for public feedback on whether to allow restaurants, tattoo parlours, gyms, nail salons and libraries to reopen with limited capacity, among other considerations. Manitoba reported 110 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths Thursday. The province’s five-day test positivity rate is at 6.7 per cent, the lowest it’s been since Oct. 23.
Ontario reported 1,563 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 88 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 1,101, with 323 COVID-19 patients in the province’s intensive care units.
Students in Ontario regions hit hard by COVID-19 will begin returning to physical classrooms next week as the province said new infections were gradually declining and additional measures had been put in place to ensure schools would be safe.
In Quebec, health officials on Thursday reported 1,093 new cases of COVID-19 and 42 additional deaths. Hospitalizations decreased again to 1,070, with 175 COVID-19 patients reported to be in the province’s intensive care units.
WATCH | COVID-19: Addressing vaccine skepticism:
Further east, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and P.E.I. each reported one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday. New Brunswick reported 16 new cases. The province’s chief medical health officer urged New Brunswickers to keep their Super Bowl Sunday celebrations low key.
“No one wants their Super Bowl party to turn into a super-spreader event,” Dr. Jennifer Russell said.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 2:20 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 104.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 58 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.2 million.
A top international Red Cross organization has announced a 100 million Swiss franc (almost $142 million Cdn) plan to help support the immunization of 500 million people worldwide against COVID-19 amid concerns about vast inequalities in the rollout of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor countries.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, an umbrella organization of national groups, said the world’s 50 poorest countries have received only 0.1 per cent of the total vaccine doses that have been administered worldwide so far — with 70 per cent administered in the 50 richest countries.
“Without equal distribution, even those who are vaccinated will not be safe,” federation secretary-general Jagan Chapagain said in a statement.
In Africa, some 16 countries have shown interest in securing COVID-19 vaccines under an African Union (AU) initiative and the aim is to deliver allocations in the next three weeks, the head of a continental disease control body said on Thursday.
As wealthier nations push ahead with mass immunization, Africa is seeking to immunize 60 per cent of its 1.3 billion people in the next three years. Only a handful of African nations have begun giving doses.
The AU bloc initially secured 270 million doses from manufacturers for member states, then late last month said it would receive another 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
John Nkengasong, director of the AU’s Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the 16 countries had so far placed requests for the vaccines under the bloc’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), which started operation in mid-January.
“With respect to AVATT, 16 countries have now expressed their interest for a total 114 million doses of vaccines,” Nkengasong told a virtual news conference.
“Our hope is that in the next two to three weeks, they should be having their vaccines. But I cannot give you a specific date.”
Separately from the AU’s efforts, Africa is to receive about 600 million vaccine doses this year via the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the Middle East, several nations were introducing new restrictions. In Saudi Arabia, where authorities already have banned travel to the kingdom from 20 countries, including the U.S., officials also ordered all weddings and parties suspended. It closed down all shopping malls, gyms and other locations for 10 days, as well as indoor dining. Authorities warned the new measures could be extended.
The kingdom also ordered cemeteries to ensure graveside funerals have a distance of 100 metres between them.
In Kuwait, authorities have ordered a two-week ban on foreigners arriving to the country beginning Sunday. Separately, officials have ordered most businesses closed from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Sunday for the next month. It closed health clubs, spas and gyms, as well as banned celebrations for its upcoming Feb. 25 National Day.
“Non-compliance and recklessness could take the country back to square one in its fight against the pandemic,” Kuwaiti Health Minister Dr. Basel Al Sabah said, according to the state-run KUNA news agency.
Qatar similarly announced new restrictions Wednesday on daily life, though not as severe as other countries. In Doha, the state-run Qatar News Agency quoted COVID-19 task force chairman Dr. Abdullatif al-Khal as warning that “a remarkable increase with an accelerated pace in the number of infections and the reproductive factor of the virus were recorded, which may be an early indicator of a possible second wave.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, World Health Organization investigators looking for clues into the origin of the coronavirus in Wuhan said the Chinese side has provided a high level of co-operation but cautioned against expecting immediate results.
Along with the key Wuhan Institute of Virology, the WHO team that includes experts from 10 nations has visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional market tied to the outbreak.
The team on Thursday spent two hours meeting with managers and residents at the Jiangxinyuan community administrative centre in Wuhan’s Hanyang District. Official statistics show there were at least 16 confirmed coronavirus cases in the community last year among nearly 10,000 people living there when the virus broke out.
Zoologist and team member Peter Daszak praised Wednesday’s meetings with staff at the Wuhan institute, including with its deputy director who worked with Daszak to track down the origins of SARS that originated in China and led to the 2003 outbreak.
Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals said the Serum Institute of India has delayed the first supplies of the vaccine for private sale, instead prioritizing government immunization campaigns.
Australia’s second-most populous city reintroduced coronavirus restrictions from Thursday after an Australian Open hotel quarantine worker tested positive for COVID-19, sending more than 500 tennis players and officials into isolation.
In Europe, the new head of Portugal’s COVID-19 vaccination task force is due to start work Thursday amid scandals over vaccine queue-jumping and frustration over a sluggish rollout similar to that seen in other European Union countries. Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo is taking charge a day after his predecessor resigned.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that she wakes up at night thinking about the life-and-death decisions she faces in trying to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.
Merkel, a scientist known for her no-nonsense approach, has come under pressure in the last few weeks over a slow vaccination rollout in Germany and the European Union compared with countries such as Britain, the United States and Israel.
“I do wake up sometimes at night and think about things. It’s a difficult time for me. I want to have thought things through a lot before I make decisions,” Merkel told RTL/n-tv. Germany has registered more than 2.2 million cases and nearly 60,000 deaths related to the virus.
Sweden said it will develop a digital vaccination certificate this summer to allow people who have been vaccinated to travel. Digitalization Minister Anders Ygeman said three authorities in Sweden had been asked to work on producing the certificate, and the plan is to co-ordinate it with the World Health Organization and the European Union.
On Wednesday, Denmark said it was joining forces with the country’s business community to develop a digital corona passport that would be ready for use later this year.
Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 3:15 p.m. ET
UK’s Kendal Nutricare to deliver 2 million cans of baby formula to the US by June
London, United Kingdom (UK)- Will McMahon, the commercial director of Kendal Nutricare, has said the company will deliver 2 million cans of baby formula to the United States (US) by June this year.
Baby formula shortages began to take hold in the US last year amid supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the situation deteriorated in February when Abbott Laboratories, one of the country’s main manufacturers, with a 40 percent market share, recalled some of its products and shut down a manufacturing plant after four babies who had been fed formula made at the facility contracted a rare bacterial infection (Cronobacter sakazakii) with two of them later dying.
“The bigger opportunity here is as a company we have been in touch with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and working with them for over five years with the aim of bringing a product into the US. There is enormous curiosity and demand for Kendamil in the States, so we are hopeful that we will have everything in place with the FDA to be able to continue to supply legitimately well beyond November,” said McMahon.
More so, the US normally produces 98 percent of the infant formula it consumes, with imports mainly coming from Mexico, Ireland and the Netherlands but last week, the White House eased import requirements and announced an effort to transport baby formula from abroad dubbed Operation Fly Formula.
Nevertheless, the FDA said it is doing everything in its power to make sure there is enough baby formula for parents and caregivers who need it adding that it is in discussions with other manufacturers and suppliers about bringing other baby formulas to the US.
“Our recent steps will help further bolster the supply of infant formula, including through the import of safe and nutritious products from overseas based on our increased flexibilities announced last week.
Importantly, we anticipate additional infant formula products may be safely and quickly imported into the US in the near-term based on ongoing discussions with manufacturers and suppliers worldwide,” said FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf.
Trudeau cancels appearance at Surrey fundraiser over protest-related safety concerns – CBC.ca
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled plans to attend a Liberal party fundraising dinner in Surrey on Tuesday evening as a result of safety concerns over a large gathering of protesters outside the event.
Protesters allegedly harassed and hurled racial slurs at attendees and volunteers, many of whom were South Asian, according to Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai.
The fundraiser was being held at Aria banquet hall.
Sarai says that a group of protesters were stationed outside the front gates of the event, eventually growing to around 100 people.
“They just started swearing, yelling, screaming at anyone that was going through,” said Sarai.
“We had a lot of South Asian volunteers… that were harassed, sworn at, called towel head, rag head, you’re all immigrants.”
He says it’s unclear what the group was actually protesting.
Surrey RCMP confirmed in a statement that there were several vehicles and larger trucks towing trailers that were travelling “in a convoy style loop around the roadway.”
“Due to the size and composition of the protest group and for the safety of everyone in attendance, a decision was made that it was not safe for the prime minister to attend the location,” said Cpl. Vanessa Munn.
Trudeau did not enter the building and spoke to a crowd for about three minutes by Zoom instead of making a speech in person. Trudeau said he would return to see his supporters in Surrey in the future.
WATCH | Justin Trudeau talk about the unruly crowd and its impact on free speech:
Wednesday, at an event in Saskatoon, Trudeau addressed what happened at the fundraiser in Surrey, adding that nobody should be intimidated for supporting a political party.
“The safety of Canadians choosing to make their voices heard in politics should never be in question as it was last night,” he said.
“The fundamental freedoms we have as a country, and we enjoy as Canadians, need to be defended, need to be protected.”
Protesters swore at Prime Minister
Protesters used expletives as they chanted against Trudeau and honked horns outside the convention centre. About half a dozen RCMP officers stood by watching the crowd.
Sarai says the protesters turned the event into a hostile environment.
“This is not reflective of Surrey at all,” he said.
“Surrey is a very diverse city, a very friendly city, a very welcoming city.”
And while he respects the public’s right to protest, he says “you should never spew hate and use the vulgarity that was being used there.”
Protests against party leaders
Earlier this month, police began investigating after a video circulated on social media showed people hurling verbal abuse at NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during a protest in Peterborough, Ont.
The federal NDP leader had dropped by the campaign office of an Ontario NDP candidate running in the provincial election.
A video shows Singh encountering protesters as he left the campaign office, and they can be heard shouting expletives at him and calling him a “traitor”‘ as he gets inside a vehicle.
Singh later told reporters he found the experience “intense, threatening [and] insulting”‘ but that he is more worried about what it means for politics in general.
The latest on the French-language Conservative leadership debate in Laval
LAVAL, Que. — Conservative leadership hopefuls are squaring off — in French — in the second official debate of the race, which is being held in Laval, Que.
Here are the latest developments. All times eastern:
Conservative leadership candidates Patrick Brown and Leslyn Lewis took turns attacking rival Pierre Poilievre for his embrace of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as a solution to inflation.
Lewis, who is often reading from her notes during the French-language debate in Laval, Que., said Poilievre’s position was wrong.
At one point, Brown said Poilievre’s position on Bitcoin was similar to that of the leadership in El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender.
The International Monetary Fund urged the Central American country to drop Bitcoin as its official currency earlier this year, citing its volatility.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest says Canada must renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.
He says that is how he would deal with “illegal immigration,” such as migrants entering the country through the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road south of Montreal.
Candidates were asked about immigration as the first question in the debate.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown used the question to say he was trying to build an inclusive party and attacked Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre for not publicly condemning the “white replacement” conspiracy theory espoused by Pat King, a leader of the Ottawa convoy protest.
Poilievre responded by saying he has in fact condemned King’s remarks and that people couldn’t believe anything Brown says.
While answering a question about public safety, Poilievre said the country needs to better deal with guns illegally brought into Canada.
Charest said Poilievre has no businesses talking about law and order when he supported the Ottawa convoy, which he called an illegal blockade.
The room then erupted into a mix of cheers and boos.
Candidates took to the stage and began by outlining one by one what legacy they wanted to leave behind as leaders.
Pierre Poilievre says he wants his legacy to be making Canada the freest country in the world, including by making sure people don’t feel forced to get vaccinated and that young people are able to afford a home.
Patrick Brown says he can win in urban areas, which the party needs, and has what it takes to build a party that can succeed in a general election.
Roman Baber, an Independent member of the Ontario legislature, introduced himself to the crowd.
He says he knows Canada is bilingual and has taken lessons, but still asked those watching to forgive his French.
The Conservative party’s leadership organizing committee announced before the debate began that it will announce the results of the leadership race at a downtown Ottawa convention centre on Sept. 10.
The party’s president, Robert Batherson, says it will be the first time since 2018 that members will gather together at a national event.
The party held a convention in Halifax in 2018.
House music issued from amplifiers as Conservatives of all ages began to take their seats ahead of tonight’s leadership debate.
Several hundred attendees, who were not wearing masks, crowded the ballroom of the Chateau Royal venue north of Montreal, seated between television cameras and the stage.
The six contenders are slated to appear at their podiums at 8 p.m.
Conservative leadership candidates filed in for the race’s only French-language debate, being held at a reception hall north of Montreal.
The suburban venue in Laval, Que., saw scores of federal Tories and onlookers mingling in the foyer before the six contenders take the stage.
Former Quebec premier Jean Charest greeted a handful of supporters with kisses, while Ontario MP Scott Aitchison chatted with party members amid sign-up booths for each candidate.
Bookending the stage beneath ballroom chandeliers were a bank of speakers and 14 flags — six with the Fleur-de-lis, eight with the Maple Leaf.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022
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