Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin held a two-hour virtual meeting Tuesday amid mounting tension over the military buildup at the Russia-Ukraine border. National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to reporters following the call.
Jake Sullivan: “He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures. We would provide additional defensive materiel to the Ukrainians, above and beyond that which we are already providing.”
Russia blamed escalating tensions on Western powers and reiterated opposition to any plans for NATO to expand in Eastern Europe.
The House passed a $768 billion military budget Tuesday in a 363-70 vote. The sum is $24 billion higher than what was requested by President Biden, despite withdrawing this year from the U.S.'s longest war in Afghanistan. The package includes funds aimed at countering China's power and to build Ukraine’s military strength. It also includes nearly $28 billion in nuclear weapons funding.
Separately, the Senate voted down a bipartisan bid by Senators Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul and Mike Lee to halt $650 million in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia amid the devastating ongoing war on Yemen.
The House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection said they would pursue criminal contempt charges against Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows if he fails to show up for a deposition today. CNN is reporting the House committee has formally subpoenaed phone records for over 100 people, including Meadows. Meanwhile, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s contempt of Congress trial has been set for July 18, 2022.
An early South African study on the Omicron coronavirus variant finds that people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could still be vulnerable to breakthrough infection, though a third booster shot appears to offer greater protection. Early data has not shown Omicron causes more severe illness, and health officials have reaffirmed widespread vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19.
The U.S. surgeon general on Tuesday warned that young people are facing a “devastating” mental health crisis, compounded by the ongoing pandemic. Young people have reported higher rates of depression and anxiety, and emergency room visits for suicide attempts went up by over 50% for adolescent girls in early 2021 compared to figures from 2019.
French authorities have arrested a Saudi man who is suspected of involvement in Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 assassination. Khalid Aedh al-Otaibi was detained at a Paris airport as he prepared to fly to Riyadh. But Saudi officials say the man is not the suspect in question and simply has the same name as a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard implicated in the disappearance and killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Last year, a Saudi court jailed eight people for the murder, but rights groups and lawmakers say the plot’s masterminds, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have not faced justice.
Chile has legalized same-sex marriage after years of organizing and political pressure. The legislation also recognizes adoption and other parental rights of same-sex couples and full spousal benefits. This is Senator Álvaro Elizalde of Chile’s Socialist Party.
Sen. Álvaro Elizalde: “I believe that this is a historic and relevant day. This victory is the result of years of struggle, fight and efforts which aimed to not only modify the law but also change the culture.”
The historic vote came as Chileans prepare to cast ballots in a presidential runoff on December 19. The race pits progressive former student activist Gabriel Boric against far-right José Antonio Kast, who has opposed LGBTQ rights during his time as a lawmaker.
In a landmark ruling last week, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court said plans to mine for copper and gold in a protected cloud forest were unconstitutional and violate the rights of nature. The case involved mining permits that were issued in Los Cedros — a protected area in northwestern Ecuador — which the high court argued would harm the precious and unique biodiversity of the forest. The rights of nature are enshrined in Ecuador’s Constitution.
Rohingya refugees are suing Facebook’s parent company Meta over its failure to stop violent hate speech on its platform, which contributed to the bloody military crackdown of the Rohingya Muslim community by the Burmese military in 2017. Law firms in the U.S. and U.K. launched the legal effort on behalf of the Rohingya community around the world, including in Bangladeshi refugee camps. Plaintiffs are demanding over $150 billion in damages. The U.N. found as many as 10,000 Rohingya were killed by Burmese forces during the 2017 genocide, though some estimates put the death toll at more than twice that number. Another 730,000 people were forced to flee the country.
In financial news, the World Inequality Lab found the world’s billionaires saw their net worth grow exponentially during the pandemic, by more than $3.6 trillion in 2020 alone, while 100 million more people were pushed into extreme poverty. The report also found that, since 1995, the world’s richest 1% claimed 38% of all new wealth, as the poorest half of the global population benefited from just 2%.
In Washington, D.C., immigrant justice advocates were joined by progressive lawmakers as they rallied to demand Congress and President Biden include a path to citizenship in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. This is Hwangchan Yu with the HANA Center in Chicago, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child.
Hwangchan Yu: “In this rare moment, we can use the process to take a step forward for the needs of people. We need our whole humanity. We need our full lives. And that means fighting for citizenship through registry, and that means disregarding the parliamentarian. Immigrants are essential, and we make this country exist in the first place. We ain’t here for a parole, and we aren’t compromising our lives. And that’s the bottom line.”
An investigation by House Democrats into the medical abuse and forced sterilization of immigrants detained at Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center found the doctor who performed unnecessary gynecological treatments and surgeries did not meet acceptable standards of care. The investigation also signaled Dr. Mahendra Amin may have performed the invasive procedures to inflate payment from the government and “defraud the Department of Homeland Security and the federal government without consequences.”
The Senate confirmed Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus as the next head of Customs and Border Protection. Magnus has faced criticism for his handling of the Tucson police killing of 27-year-old Carlos Ingram-Lopez, who died in April 2020 after police pinned him face-down to the ground for 12 minutes at his grandmother’s house. Tucson police did not disclose Ingram-Lopez’s killing until June.
The Senate also voted to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel as chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the first woman to serve as permanent chair of the agency. Digital rights activists welcomed the news.
She was a fierce critic of the Trump-era repeal of net neutrality protections.
Last month, Jonathan Kanter, one of the nation’s leading anti-monopoly experts, was confirmed to head the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. The Senate also unanimously confirmed Charles “Chuck” Sams III in November as the first-ever Native American National Park Service director.
The White House announced Tuesday Saule Omarova withdrew her nomination to become comptroller of the currency, after opposition from Republicans and some conservative Democrats. Omarova grew up in Soviet Kazakhstan and came to the U.S. in 1991. During her confirmation hearing, Louisiana Republican John Kennedy accused her of loyalty to the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union. She would have been the first woman, first immigrant and first person of color to fill the role.
Democratic Congressmembers Jan Schakowsky and Nanette Diaz Barragán reintroduced the Future Generations Protection Act. The bill, which has 21 other co-sponsors and is backed by a slew of environmental groups, would ban fracking, block new fossil fuel power plants and ban crude oil and natural gas exports.
In business news, the billionaire CEO of digital mortgage company Better.com is under fire after video circulated of him laying off 900 staffers, about 15% of its workforce, during a Zoom call.
Vishal Garg: “If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”
CEO Vishal Garg reportedly accused some of the fired employees of working just two hours a day. Soft Bank, which backs Better.com, had agreed to a $750 million cash injection as the company undergoes a merger, and Garg received a $25 million bonus last year.
Journalist, music writer and cultural critic Greg Tate has died. He was 64 years old. He has been described as the “godfather of hip-hop journalism.” Tate started writing for The Village Voice in 1987, where for years he told stories about Black culture and identity. He went on to write for Rolling Stone, the BBC and other outlets. In 1992, he published his first book, “Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America.” He co-founded the Black Rock Coalition, a group that fought against stereotypes of Black artists. Tate’s latest piece was published by The Nation in September, a review of “Afropessimism” by Frank B. Wilderson III. Tate wrote, “James Baldwin said, 'To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time.' But what he didn’t say was that, on a good day, it is mostly a sublimated state of rage since folk got bills to pay and sanity to keep.”