Justice Stephen Breyer is planning to retire from the Supreme Court after 27 years of service. Breyer’s retirement gives President Biden his first chance to nominate a Supreme Court justice but will not change the ideological makeup of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. At 83, Breyer is the court’s oldest justice. He faced intense pressure to retire ahead of November’s midterm elections while Democrats still control the Senate. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Biden’s nominee would receive a prompt hearing. As a candidate, Biden vowed to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
Russian officials said they are not optimistic after receiving responses Wednesday from the U.S. and NATO over demands made by Russia that NATO halt its eastward expansion. The U.S. and NATO did not reveal the content of the letters, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the U.S. and its allies did not agree to curb its expansion but offered a path forward for negotiations with Moscow.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “We make clear that there are core principles that we are committed to uphold and defend, including Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the right of states to choose their own security arrangements and alliances.”
Meanwhile, the military buildup continues on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine border, where some 100,000 Russian troops have been massed for weeks. Earlier this week, the U.S. put 8,500 troops on “heightened alert” to deploy to the region if needed.
In Congress, top progressive Democrats Pramila Jayapal and Barbara Lee called on the Biden administration Wednesday to pursue diplomacy amid the escalation tensions, warning “there is no military solution” to the crisis.
The Biden administration has approved a weapons sale to Egypt valued at over $2.5 billion, despite voicing concerns over human rights abuses by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which the U.S. government has used as justification for withholding $130 million in military aid. State Department spokesperson Ned Price was questioned about the weapons deal Tuesday.
Matt Lee: “What is the point of holding — withholding $130 million in foreign military financing when you’re just going to turn around and sell them $2.5 billion in weapons?”
Ned Price: “Matt, if we have anything to add on that, on the report you’re referencing, we’ll let you know.”
A dozen House Democrats penned a letter calling on President Biden to stop servicing Saudi warplanes used in deadly attacks against civilians. The Democrats cited the recent airstrikes on a migrant detention center in Yemen, which killed over 70 people. New Jersey Congressmember Tom Malinowski added in a tweet that the “continued servicing of these jets could make the United States complicit in these likely war crimes.”
In Syria, Kurdish-led forces backed by U.S. helicopter gunships have recaptured a prison in the northeastern city of Hasakah, ending a week-long battle that began when Islamic State fighters attempted a jailbreak. The fighting left more than 180 people dead. The siege ended after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces cut off food and water to the jail for two days. More than 700 imprisoned children — some as young as 12 years old — were reportedly used as human shields during the siege. Last year, a United Nations report found conditions inside the jail amounted to torture, with prisoners packed in overcrowded cells, denied access to sunlight, medical care and proper nutrition.
The United Nations is calling on countries to allow humanitarian aid to flow into Afghanistan, where an estimated 23 million people face acute food shortages. Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday that more than half of Afghan citizens are facing extreme levels of hunger, with some families forced to sell their babies so they can buy food.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Six months after the takeover by the Taliban, Afghanistan is hanging by a thread. For Afghans, daily life has become a frozen hell.”
Secretary-General Guterres said $1.2 billion from the World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund should be freed up immediately, and humanitarian aid groups should be allowed to operate in Afghanistan without fear of breaching sanctions imposed after the Taliban takeover last August.
The World Health Organization says nations reported 21 million new coronavirus cases last week — the highest weekly toll of the pandemic. This comes as the Financial Times reports the COVAX initiative to bring vaccines to poor and middle-income nations is unable to accept new donations because it has nearly exhausted the funds needed to buy crucial accessories, including syringes. COVAX recently delivered its 1 billionth vaccine dose; the group’s goal was to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves tweeted in response, “This is why the charity model of vaccine delivery cannot work. … Share the technology NOW for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna are prolonging this pandemic with their greed.”
The United States reported nearly 3,900 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday — the highest daily toll since last winter’s surge. Hospitalizations remain near record highs, though the number of reported daily infections is falling rapidly.
Spotify is removing Neil Young’s music from its catalog, after Young demanded the streaming platform drop podcast host Joe Rogan. Rogan has a history of promoting baseless conspiracy theories about the pandemic and untested treatments for COVID-19, and he’s repeatedly spread misinformation about vaccines. In an open letter, Young blasted misinformation on Spotify’s podcasts and said, “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” On Wednesday, Spotify sided with Rogan and began taking Neil Young’s songs offline. “The Joe Rogan Experience” is the world’s most popular podcast, with an estimated 11 million listeners per episode. In 2020, Rogan signed a deal with Spotify reportedly worth over $100 million.
In California, the city of San Jose has passed a first-of-its-kind ordinance requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance and pay a yearly fee. The measure was introduced last May after a city transit worker fatally shot nine co-workers before turning the gun on himself. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo compared the legislation to laws requiring car drivers to carry insurance.
Mayor Sam Liccardo: “Those who are not complying with this very simple regulation will face consequences and, with the help of some state legislation, may well suffer the forfeiture of the guns, as well.”
The group Gun Owners of California has promised to sue San Jose to block the ordinance from taking effect next month.
Meanwhile, gun control groups are condemning Illinois-based gun maker WEE1 Tactical for producing a smaller version of the AR-15 assault rifle and marketing it to children, with promotional materials that feature cartoon skulls and baby pacifiers. The Violence Policy Center responded, “That a gun-maker has embraced imagery of dead children to promote gun ownership by youth surreally illustrates how detached this industry is from the death and injury that result from its products.”