The United States Senate has approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, promising heavy weapons for its military and humanitarian aid for millions of people displaced by Russia’s invasion. Democrats were unanimous in their support for the measure; just 11 Republicans voted against it. It’s by far the largest U.S. foreign aid package in decades and brings total U.S. assistance to Ukraine to $54 billion in less than three months. The bill’s speedy passage through Congress came as Republican senators continue to block $10 billion in additional COVID funding and as much of President Biden’s legislative agenda remains stalled on Capitol Hill, including bills on voting rights and the climate crisis.
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the U.S. for its support Thursday. He said Russia’s assault has “completely destroyed” the eastern Donbas region. Meanwhile, The New York Times has published witness testimony and videos showing how Russian paratroopers executed at least eight Ukrainian men in a Kyiv suburb on March 4 in a potential war crime.
Russia has rejected a call by the United Nations to end its Black Sea naval blockade, which has prevented Ukraine from exporting grain to world markets. On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council that Russia’s invasion threatens to trigger years of mass hunger and famine, compounding food shortages caused by climate change, COVID-19 and inequality.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “The war in Ukraine is now adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger. Russia’s invasion of its neighbor has effectively ended its food exports. Price increases of up to 30% for staple foods threaten people in countries across Africa and the Middle East, including Cameroon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.”
A new report by the Norwegian Refugee Council finds an unprecedented over 60 million people worldwide were displaced last year due to war, violence and the climate emergency. Cyclones and flooding triggered most internal displacements. The latest Global Report on Internal Displacement doesn’t include the nearly 8 million people that have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February.
President Biden has arrived in South Korea, kicking off a six-day visit to Asia that will also take him to Japan next week. Biden’s first stop today was a tour of a Samsung Electronics plant alongside newly inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol. Their meeting came after the White House said it expects North Korea to carry out a long-range missile test — or a nuclear test — during Biden’s trip.
Meanwhile, a top Chinese diplomat, Yang Jiechi, told Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan in a phone call Wednesday, “If the U.S. continues to play the Taiwan card and head further on the wrong path, this will certainly lead to dangerous situations. … China will be steadfast to take actions that defend its sovereignty and security interests.”
Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a bill that bans nearly all abortions starting at fertilization. The measure now heads to Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who’s promised to sign what will become the nation’s strictest anti-abortion law. The legislation allows anyone to sue doctors who perform abortions or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion — modeled on Texas’s anti-abortion law that took effect in September. The Oklahoma Legislature also approved a bill Thursday banning transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Democratic Oklahoma state Representative Mauree Turner spoke out against both measures during floor debate Thursday.
Rep. Mauree Turner: “I hope that folks truly understand that the author of this bill has not run any legislation that’s actually going to protect life in Oklahoma. When we are facing a time where folks are having to ration the formula that they are giving their babies, or we are suffering from doctors, lawyers, educators leaving the state because we are not creating a safe space but a place where Big Brother is always watching you, this is not how we create community or save it. Please vote no.”
In Buffalo, the first funeral will be held today for the victims of Saturday’s massacre, when an 18-year-old self-described white supremacist opened fire on a grocery store in the heart of Buffalo’s Black community. The gunman shot dead 10 people, all of whom were Black. Today’s funeral is for 68-year-old Heyward Patterson, who was a deacon at the Tabernacle Church of God. He was known for giving rides to people who needed to shop at Tops, where Saturday’s attack took place.
The suspect briefly appeared in court Thursday after a grand jury indicted him on first-degree murder charges, to which he pleaded not guilty. Families of the victims were inside the courtroom, where they faced the suspect for the first time since the weekend’s mass shooting. The FBI is also weighing federal hate crime and terrorism charges.
The House of Representatives has narrowly approved a bill to crack down on price gouging on gasoline. Its passage came as gas prices reached new highs this week, rising above $4 a gallon in every state. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill; they were joined by four House Democrats. Climate action groups applauded the move and called on Congress to also pass a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies that have made record profits during the pandemic. The price gouging legislation is unlikely to clear the Senate, where it would need the support of 10 Republicans to break a Republican filibuster.
Chicago’s top police official had few answers Thursday about how an unarmed 13-year-old boy was shot and seriously injured a day earlier after he allegedly ran from a stolen car. Police Superintendent David Brown said an officer shot the boy after a chase, but he wouldn’t name the officer and didn’t say how many bullets police fired, or whether the boy had his hands in the air.
David Brown: “Several officers pursue the individual on foot. The subject flees a gas station parking lot at the 800 block of North Cicero and turns toward the officer. The officer then discharges his weapon, striking the individual once.”
Superintendent Brown did confirm there was no gunfire directed at officers. The Chicago Police Department says it has no plans to release any of the video to the public. Last year, the department similarly resisted release of video showing an officer killing 13-year-old Adam Toledo, and it infamously fought the release of video showing the police murder of Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Hungarian far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered the keynote address Thursday as the American Conservative Political Action Conference — or CPAC — opened its annual conference. The Republican-aligned group chose Budapest, Hungary, for this year’s gathering in order to pay homage to Orbán, a far-right authoritarian who recently won a fourth term in office. Orbán frequently references the same “Great Replacement” ideology cited by the white supremacist shooter who killed 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo last weekend. In his speech to CPAC, he railed against LGBTQ+ movements and said U.S. conservatives should be prepared to fight over the next presidential election.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “Progressive liberals, neo-Marxists dazed by the woke dream, people financed by George Soros and promoters of open societies, they want to annihilate the Western way of life that you and we love so much. … We have to take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels. We must find allies in one another and coordinate the movement of our troops as we face a big test. 2024 will be a decisive year.”
Also appearing at CPAC Thursday was Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, who praised Orbán in a prerecorded video. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who served under President Trump, is addressing CPAC today.