President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are meeting with local Asian American leaders in Atlanta today in the wake of Tuesday’s mass shooting in which a white man killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. Harris is the first Asian American and the first woman vice president.
At a congressional hearing Thursday on the rise of anti-Asian violence, California Democratic Congressmember Ted Lieu called for an end to the racist rhetoric used by some politicians since the start of the pandemic, namely former President Trump.
Rep. Ted Lieu: “You can say racist, stupid things if you want. But I’m asking you to, please, stop using racist terms like 'kung flu' or 'Wuhan virus' or other ethnic identifiers in describing this virus. I am not a virus. And when you say things like that, it hurts the Asian American community.”
Meanwhile, Chip Roy of Texas decided to glorify lynchings at the hearing intended to combat racism and xenophobia.
Rep. Chip Roy: “There’s old sayings in Texas about, you know, find the — all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.”
New York Congressmember Grace Meng responded to Roy’s comments.
Rep. Grace Meng: “Your president and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don’t have to do it by putting a bull’s-eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids. This hearing was to address the hurt and pain of our community and to find solutions, and we will not let you take our voice away from us.”
Last week, Congressmember Meng reintroduced her resolution denouncing anti-Asian hate crimes and discrimination amid the pandemic.
Meanwhile, former President Obama called for “commonsense” gun control laws Wednesday. Biden has yet to raise the issue publicly since the shooting but called on Congress last month to pass new gun control legislation.
About a dozen nations, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, have resumed use of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine, after Europe’s top regulator declared the shots safe and effective. The European Medicines Agency investigated 25 cases of rare blood clots among some 20 million people who’ve received AstraZeneca inoculations. It’s not known whether the vaccine caused the blood clots, and health officials say its benefits far outweigh its risks.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration said it plans to ship about 4 million doses of U.S.-made AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada. The vaccine is not yet approved for use in the United States, and millions of vials have been piling up in U.S. warehouses, prompting criticism of “vaccine hoarding.” The White House says the vaccine shipments would have to be repaid, effectively making them a loan.
On Thursday the United States recorded nearly 60,000 new coronavirus infections and over 1,600 COVID-19 deaths. Daily infections have largely plateaued and are rising in over a dozen states, even as the White House marks its goal today of delivering 100 million doses within President Biden’s first 100 days.
On Capitol Hill, chief White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci clashed with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul over the use of masks. Senator Paul questioned why people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 — or who’ve had the vaccine — should continue to cover their faces.
Sen. Rand Paul: “You want people to get the vaccine? Give them a reward, instead of telling them that the nanny state’s going to be there for three more years and you’ve got to wear a mask forever. People don’t want to hear it, and there’s no science behind it.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Well, let me just state for the record that masks are not theater. Masks are protective. And we ask” —
Sen. Rand Paul: “If you have immunity, they are theater. If you already have immunity, you’re wearing a mask to give comfort to others. You’re not wearing a mask because of any science.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci: “I totally disagree with you.”
Dr. Fauci pushed back, saying there’s not enough data on whether people with immunity to COVID-19 can still spread the virus that causes the disease. He also warned that new viral variants may be able to reinfect people who have immunity to earlier lineages of coronavirus.
The Senate narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday, with just one Republican, Maine’s Susan Collins, voting in his favor. Becerra will play a key role in the government’s response to the pandemic.
The Senate also confirmed William Burns as CIA director. Burns was involved in talks leading to the landmark Iran nuclear deal under President Obama.
Deb Haaland was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris Thursday as secretary of the interior — the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary. Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, wore a traditional ribbon skirt and moccasins for the occasion.
Vice President Kamala Harris: “So help me God.”
Rep. Deb Haaland: “So help me God.”
Vice President Kamala Harris: “Congratulations, Madam Secretary! Congratulations! Congratulations!”
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland: “Thank you.”
Vice President Kamala Harris: “History is being made yet again.”
The House of Representatives passed two immigration bills that would establish a pathway to citizenship or legal residency for undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children, some immigrants with temporary protected status, as well as undocumented farmworkers. The American Dream and Promise Act would largely apply to people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, and would reportedly benefit some 2.5 million undocumented immigrants. The second bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, would allow about 1 million undocumented farmworkers to get a green card if they pay a penalty and continue to work in the industry for four to eight more years.
While some advocates have celebrated the bills, many are denouncing the exclusion of millions of other undocumented people, including those who have been convicted of a crime. Jacinta González, senior campaign organizer at Mijente, said, “If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that the policing and mass incarceration systems in this country are fundamentally rigged against Black and Latinx people, and the American Dream and Promise Act is no exception. Criminalization born of a racist system cannot be the measure by which we determine who belongs and who goes.”
The bills now head to the Senate, where they face an uphill battle as 10 Republicans would have to vote with every Democrat to pass the legislation.
In more immigration news, more than 14,000 unaccompanied migrant children are now in the custody of U.S. officials. Most are being detained at facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and some 4,500 children are still in the custody of Customs and Border Protection.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has stopped sending unaccompanied migrant teenagers to a recently opened facility in Midland, Texas, amid growing safety and other concerns. The facility is a converted camp for oil field workers, where most of the Red Cross volunteers on site don’t speak Spanish or Indigenous languages. Already over 50 teens, out of nearly 500 in custody in Midland, have tested positive for COVID-19.
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to award Congressional Gold Medals to all members of the Capitol Police force over their role in battling the mob of Trump supporters that attacked Congress on January 6. A dozen pro-Trump Republicans voted against the measure, citing objections to language that referred to the January 6 Capitol assault as an “insurrection.”
The U.S. and China traded tense verbal attacks as the first high-level talks between the two countries since the start of the Biden administration kicked off in Alaska Thursday. This is Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “I have to tell you, what I’m hearing is very different from what you described. I’m hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we’re reengaged with our allies and partners. I’m also hearing deep concern about some of the actions your government is taking.”
The U.S. accused China of threatening “global stability” and raised human rights issues. China, meanwhile, said the U.S. is using its military and economic might to carry out its own national priorities and “incite some countries to attack China.” This is senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi.
Yang Jiechi: “So, we hope that when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope that the U.S. side will think about whether it feels reassured saying those things, because the U.S. does not represent the world, it only represents the government of the United States.”
In Egypt, prominent human rights activist Sanaa Seif has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after a court found her guilty of “spreading fake news.” Seif was detained last June and was later accused of making false claims regarding the massive spread of COVID-19 inside Egyptian prisons. Amnesty International called her charges “bogus” and “stemming purely from her peaceful criticism.”
During the revolution in 2011, Sanaa Seif, who was then just 17 years old, spoke with Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous about publishing a newspaper in defiance of rules requiring government permission.
Sanaa Seif: “It’s the perfect timing to push the borders of freedom further. So, we thought, 'Why not? Let's make a newspaper, and let’s not get permission for that. Let’s just sell it in the streets.’ … It’s called Voices of Tahrir, Voices of Liberation. And, well, we thought that the first copy has to be, like — well, each one of us, after this experience of the revolution, has something to say.”