Posts tagged with "President Joe Biden"

Biden is open to scrapping filibuster for voting rights bill—‘and maybe more’

October 25, 2021

President Joe Biden said on Thursday, October 21, that he was open to ending the Senate filibuster in order to enable Democrats to pass voting rights legislation, raise the federal debt limit, and possibly enact other parts of his agenda that have been blocked by Republicans, The New York Times reports.

However, addressing a CNN town hall meeting that night, the president said that ending the filibuster—a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to kill legislation that fails to garner 60 votes—would have to wait until after he secured passage of his spending bills, which are under negotiation on Capitol Hill.

 The president said he would lose “at least three votes” on his social policy bill if he pushed an end to the filibuster. He did not say which senators he would lose.

Biden was blunt about his intentions once the debate over the spending bills was over, according to the Times. He said the need to pass sweeping voting rights legislation favored by Democrats is “equally as consequential” as the debt limit vote, which protects the full faith and credit of the United States.

Asked by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, the host of the event, whether that meant he would be open to ending the use of the filibuster so that Democrats could pass a voting rights bill, Biden said, “and maybe more.”

The president said that activists who are pushing to end the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation “make a very good point,” adding, “We’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster.”

Liberal activists have grown increasingly frustrated with Biden over the past several months as Republicans used the filibuster to prevent action on major parts of the Democratic agenda. They have accused the president and his allies in Congress of being too passive by refusing to change the rules.

On Wednesday, October 20, Republicans blocked action on legislation to bolster voting rights for the third time since Biden took office. All 50 Democrats and independents supported bringing the Freedom to Vote Act (S. 2747) to the floor, but all 50 Republicans voted against doing so—thwarting legislation that Democrats say would counter efforts in Republican-controlled states to impose new voting restrictions.

Some Democrats have urged the president to push for modifications to the filibuster so that he can pass an immigration overhaul, address prison reform, and enact more ambitious climate change legislation. If the filibuster remains intact, they argue, Biden will leave office with half his priorities unmet.

“Black and Brown voters are tired of the same scene playing out over and over,” Stephany R. Spaulding, a spokeswoman for Just Democracy, said in a statement last week. “We launch herculean mobilizations to get Democrats elected. Democrats bring legislation to the floor that would benefit communities of color, and Republicans won’t even engage in a good-faith debate.”

“Senate Democrats can no longer divorce the filibuster from the promises and issues they ran on,” she added. “They must act with urgency to get rid of the filibuster.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Democrats ponder dumping Iowa’s caucuses as the first presidential vote

October 12, 2021

President Biden is not a big fan. Former Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez is openly opposed. And elsewhere in the Democratic inner sanctum, disdain for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus has been rising for years, The Washington Post reports.

Now the day of reckoning for Iowa Democrats is fast approaching, as the DNC starts to create a new calendar for the 2024 presidential nomination that could remove Iowa from its privileged position for the first time since 1972, when candidates started flocking to the state for an early jump on the race to the White House.

According to the Post, the caucuses’ reputation has been damaged a number of factors—among them:

  • High barriers to participation,
  • A dearth of racial diversity,
  • The rightward drift in the state’s electorate, and
  • A leftward drift in the Democratic participants.

The Iowa state party’s inability to count the results in 2020 only deepened dismay in the party.

Biden, who handily won the party’s nomination in 2020, noted the lack of diversity in the caucus during the campaign—“It is what it is,” he said of the calendar—and called his fourth-place finish in the state a “gut punch.”

“We have to be honest with ourselves, and Iowa is not representative of America,” Perez said Friday in an interview with the Post. “We need a primary process that is reflective of today’s demographics in the Democratic Party.”

Others in Biden’s extended orbit have come to similar conclusions about the caucuses, for varied reasons.

“It is not suited to normal people, people that actually have daily lives,” South Carolina State Senator Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of that state’s Democratic Party and a longtime Biden ally, said of the caucuses. He described the laborious process of participating, over multiple hours, in person, on a weeknight, as far more restrictive than the requirements of a new voter law in Texas that Democrats universally oppose.

“I just think the caucus process as it exists in Iowa is not suitable in 21st-century America,” he said.

Those views are broadly held among party officers, even though Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina party chair, says no decisions have been made. He intends to “let the process play out,” according to a statement to the Post. That process will be controlled by Biden and a small group of his allies, following the party’s tradition of granting the sitting president control over party decisions.

The first step took place Saturday, when the party met to accept a slate of at-large members and committee assignments that had been put forward by senior Democratic officials, in consultation with Biden aides. The number coming from Delaware, Biden’s home state, will bump to five from one; and the number of members from Washington, D.C., will rise from 15 to 20, which has angered some state parties that are losing representation.

A subgroup of those members, who sit on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, also were be confirmed. That group, little changed from the past cycle, has been charged with setting the calendar, with an expected decision as soon as the first half of next year, according to people involved.

“Given the unrepresentative nature of the electorate, the caucus procedures that make it virtually impossible for many people to participate, and the disaster in reporting this year, it’s hard to see how anyone can make the case for keeping it first with a straight face,” said one Democratic strategist involved in the calendar conversations, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

Another Democrat put Iowa’s situation in even more stark terms: “Iowa had no friends before the 2020 race, or it had very few friends. And it certainly doesn’t have any friends after the 202o race.”

In 2020, the Iowa caucuses kicked off the presidential nominating contest on February 3, after enjoying months of bus tours and advertising attention from the candidates. New Hampshire held the first primary on February11; followed by two more racially diverse states:  a caucus in Nevada and a primary in South Carolina.

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price said on February 7, 2020, that he had

Leaders in Nevada, with the support of former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D), recently changed state law to transition from a caucus to a primary and schedule the date on the first Tuesday in February in a bid to increase the state’s importance.

Representative James E. Clyburn (D-South Carolina), a longtime Biden ally, has like Reid been critical of the demographics of New Hampshire and Iowa. Ninety-one percent of Democratic caucus goers in Iowa were White in 2020, according to entry polls.

Among the possible solutions is a party ban on allowing convention delegates to be nominated in any early caucuses in the 2024 cycle. Perez has advocated allowing multiple states, possibly including South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, to vote on the same day, forcing campaigns to split their early campaign resources more broadly in the early parts of their campaign.

There remains broad concern about giving larger states too much say in the party’s decision, as Democrats say they do want to allow for a process that encourages meeting with voters and gives less-well-funded or known candidates a chance to win on their merits.

“Iowa’s position is really in danger. On the other hand, I have got to say, when you look at the early states, you can’t have a big state. You don’t want people to be priced out,” said Jeff Weaver, a presidential campaign adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). “With California, Texas, Florida and New York as the first four, you would know who the nominee is before you even started.”

None of that means pushing Iowa to the side will be easy. Attempts by DNC commissions in 1978 and 1981 to change the date of the Iowa caucuses ultimately failed.

state law in Iowa requires the parties to hold their nominating caucuses at least eight days before any other state caucus or primary, and the state law in New Hampshire requires that its primary be at least a week before any other state. Republicans, who control government in both states, have made it clear that they plan to stick to tradition for their party in 2024.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Biden: Curbing filibuster to raise debt limit is ‘a real possibility’

October 7, 2021

President Joe Biden said on Tuesday, October 5, that Democrats are considering a change to Senate filibuster rules to bypass a Republican blockade over raising the debt limit, which has set the United States on a collision course with a government default, The New York Times reports.

“Oh, I think that’s a real possibility,” Biden said when asked if Democrats were considering the last-resort route, which would involve making an exception to allow for a debt ceiling bill to pass with a simple majority instead of the usual 60 votes needed.

Senate Democrats discussed carving out the exception at their weekly lunch on Tuesday. No conclusions were reached, but notably, according to participants, the two strongest opponents of filibuster changes—Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—did not speak up in protest. They also did not speak up in support.

However, on Wednesday morning, Manchin indicated that he would not support modifying the filibuster in order to deal with the debt ceiling.

The move, once nearly unimaginable in a chamber steeped in decorum, has come under discussion as the Biden Administration and congressional Democrats have explored ways to head off a government default without Republican support.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has warned lawmakers of “catastrophic” consequences, including a recession and financial crisis, if Congress does not act before October 18, when the government is projected to be unable to pay its bills.

On Wednesday, the Senate was scheduled to vote on whether to take up legislation to raise the debt ceiling until December 2022. But with ten Republican senators needed to join Democrats in support, the vote is expected to fail.

Some Democrats have expressed hope that if curbing the filibuster is the only avenue left, the party could muster 50 votes for the rule change.

Biden’s remarks on Tuesday evening, made as he returned to the White House after a trip to Michigan to sell a bipartisan infrastructure package and expansive social spending bill, reflected the president’s increasingly confrontational approach to a divided chamber that has presented him with one legislative obstacle after another as he tries to pass his domestic agenda.

“As soon as this week, your savings and your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt,” Mr. Biden said during remarks at the White House on Monday, October 4—cautioning that a failed vote on Wednesday could rattle financial markets, sending stock prices lower and interest rates higher. “A meteor is headed for our economy,” he said.

The president has also bristled at the ultimatum put forth by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, who has said Democrats must use reconciliation—a more complicated process that could take a week or more to come together—if they want to overcome Republican opposition to raising the debt limit.

Research contact: @nytimes

White House to reset messaging on spending bills

October 5, 2021

The White House is looking to reset the messaging this week around its multitrillion-dollar spending bills deadlocked in Congress, as President Joe Biden hits the road to pitch popular elements of the package. NBC News reports.

Officials are hoping to get the focus back on the content of the bills, like programs that would cut prescription drug prices and lower child care costs, and away from the process and debate over the price tag, which has been at the center of infighting among Democrats in Washington, said a White House official.

Biden will travel to the working-class town of Howell, Michigan, on Tuesday to “continue rallying public support” for the bills, the White House said on Sunday, October 3, in a statement. Biden said Saturday that he may make other stops this week, although the official said nothing has been finalized.

Biden said over the weekend that he believed the messaging around the bills had gotten muddled and that he hoped to improve the sales pitch. The bills—one for $550 billion on infrastructure and another for a proposed $3.5 trillion to fund a range of social programs—are part of a major campaign promise Biden made to rebuild the country’s physical and “human” infrastructure and have been the focus of his domestic policy agenda as president.

There’s an awful lot that’s in …  these bills that everybody thinks they know, but they don’t know what’s in them,” Biden told reporters on Saturday, October 2, adding, “When you go out and you test each of the individual elements in the bill, everyone is for them, not everyone, over 70% of the American people are for them.”

According to NBC News, both the infrastructure bill and the social spending measure have the support of Democrats—but moderates have pushed to reduce the size of the social safety net bill, while progressives insist the spending is needed especially following the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic.

Progressive House Democrats refused on Friday to vote for the smaller infrastructure bill until they had more assurances that the larger social spending bill also would pass the Senate. Both bills only need Democratic support because they are being put forward through a legislative process known as reconciliation.

In Washington, much of the focus by the White House this week will be on trying to reach an agreement among Democratic senators on the larger social safety net bill.

Biden had numerous phone calls over the weekend from his Delaware home with members of Congress, said the official, who declined to say which members.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Biden to pledge 500 million more Pfizer vaccine doses for poor nations at U.N. COVID Summit

September 23, 2021

President Joe Biden was expected to announce on  Wednesday, September 22 that the United States will purchase 500 million additional doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer  and BioNTech to donate to developing countries, senior administration officials told The Wall Street Journal.

Biden was scheduled to make the announcement at a virtual COVID-19 summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assemblybringing the total U.S. commitment to 1.1 billion doses to be shared overseas.

According to the Journal, the decision comes as Biden is seeking to expand America’s role in helping to accelerate global vaccination efforts in low- and lower-middle-income countries that have struggled with access to shots.

The new batch of Pfizer vaccines will be manufactured in the United States and begin shipping out in January, officials said. The donation doubles an earlier U.S. pledge of 500 million Pfizer doses to developing countries by the end of June 2022.

The donated vaccines are being routed through Covax, an international program backed by the World Health Organization and tasked with supplying vaccines to the world’s poorest nations.

Although the United states has so far offered the largest donation total of any country, some international aid groups have called on the Biden Administration and other wealthy nations to do more to help inoculate the global population. Only 2% of people in low-income countries have received a first dose of the vaccine, according to the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project, prompting some health experts to warn that more lives could be lost to COVID-19 in 2022 than 2021.

The U.S. previously sent more than 110 million doses overseas, most of which were manufactured by Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, with recipient countries ranging from wealthy allies such as Canada to developing nations like Haiti.

Biden also planned to use Wednesday’s summit to call on other world leaders to help expand global access to the vaccine and take steps to make testing, therapeutics and personal protective equipment more available around the world, officials said. He intended to further urge leaders to help low- and lower-middle-income nations vaccinate at least 70% of their populations by September next year.

Research contact: @WSJ

‘Cold case’: FTC said to be investigating McDonald’s broken McFlurry machines

September 6, 2021

The feds have had it with McDonald’s broken McFlurry machines, reports the New York Post.

The Federal Trade Commission is said to be investigating why the burger chain’s ice cream machines break down so often—a matter that’s become the butt of late-night TV jokes and viral social media posts.

The FTC contacted McDonald’s franchise owners this summer seeking information on what the problem is with the chain’s ice cream machines, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, September 1—citing a letter from the FTC and sources familiar with the matter.

When reached for comment by The Post, representatives for the FTC declined to comment.

The broken machines have drawn the ire of franchisees, who say it leaves them unable to serve milkshakes, soft cones; and the preeminent McFlurry, a cup of ice cream blended with candy and cookies.

The machines require a nightly automated heat-cleaning cycle that can take up to four hours, the Journal reported; and the cleaning cycle can fail, which makes the machines unusable until a repair technician can fix them.

The dysfunctional machines make treats that account for about 60% of the chain’s dessert sales in the United States, the Journal reported, citing a consumer survey by research firm Technomic.

And the repeated breakdowns rub customers the wrong way, spurring some to even pen petitions calling for action.

We are tired of being the butt of late night jokes. So are our customers and crews,” The National Owners Association, a group of franchisees, said in a May message to owners, according to the Journal.

Some franchise owners aren’t waiting for the corporate bosses to do something. Instead, they’re reportedly paying on their own to train staff on how to fix the machines.

Others have reached out to the machine’s manufacturer, Taylor Commercial Foodservice, which says the machines, themselves, are fine.

“A lot of what’s been broadcasted can be attributed to the lack of knowledge about the equipment and how they operate in the restaurants,” a Taylor representative told the Journal.

When working with dairy products, “you have to make sure the machine is cleaned properly. The machines are built up with a lot of interconnecting parts that have to operate in a complex environment and manner,” the representative added.

“There is no reason for us to purposely design our equipment to be confusing or hard to repair or hurt our operators.”

One startup, called Kytch, has tried to help franchisees address the problem by building a device that mounts on the ice cream machines and alerts owners about a breakdown through real-time text and email alerts.

The company told the Journal that its devices can prevent damage to the machines and help franchisees keep them running.

At one point, McDonald’s franchisees in 30 states used Kytch’s devices, the company told the Journal, but then McDonald’s told franchisees that the devices aren’t sanctioned and that they could pose a safety hazard, which Kytch denies.

“Nothing is more important to us than delivering on our high standards for food quality and safety,” the corporate parent reportedly said to franchisees, “which is why we work with fully vetted partners that can reliably provide safe solutions at scale.”

Kytch responded in May with a lawsuit that accused Taylor, a separate repair company authorized to work on the ice cream machines and a McDonald’s franchisee of conspiring to steal Kytch’s technology and replicate its device.

This is a case about corporate espionage and the extreme steps one manufacturer has taken to conceal and protect a multimillion-dollar repair racket,” attorneys for Kytch wrote in the complaint in California Superior Court in Alameda County. The case is pending.

But Taylor denied it had a copy of Kytch’s device or that it wanted to steal the startup’s technology.

“This is a case of a hacker—Kytch—incredibly accusing the hacked—Taylor—of theft,” lawyers for Taylor said in a court filing.

The Tennessee-based franchisee who was named in the suit also denied the allegations.

In an interview with the Journal, Kytch co-founder Jeremy O’Sullivan then accused Taylor of infringing on McDonald’s franchisees’ rights to alter and repair their ice cream machines.

Taylor responded by saying that owners are allowed to repair equipment as they see fit, but that the warranty on the machines isn’t valid if they fix them on their own, according to the Journal.

According to the Post, the FTC’s interest in the matter may stem from the Biden administration’s previously announced efforts to crack down on various manufacturers of products ranging from phones to farming equipment. Critics have alleged that major manufacturers of such products restrict customers from fixing the products themselves.

In July, Biden signed an executive order directing agencies to take the matter on, saying at the time in a fact sheet that Americans should be able to repair good they purchased on their own.

At the root of the FTC’s inquiry is how McDonald’s reviews suppliers and equipment, including the ice cream machines, and how often restaurant owners are allowed to work on their machines. The FTC inquiry is preliminary, and “the existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing,” the agency’s letter reportedly said.

In a statement, McDonald’s said it “has no reason to believe we are the focus of an FTC investigation.”

Research contact: @nypost

Progressives led by AOC call for Biden to replace Fed Chair Powell

September 1, 2021

Progressive Democrats, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on President Joe Biden to give the Federal Reserve a sweeping makeover by replacing Jerome Powell as chairman, CNN reports.

“We urge President Biden to reimagine a Federal Reserve focused on eliminating climate risk and advancing racial and economic justice,” the lawmakers said in a statement released on Tuesday morning, August 31.

In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, the statement was issued Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Mondaire Jones of New York, and Chuy Garcia of Illinois—all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Powell, a Republican and former investment banker, was nominated to lead the powerful Federal Reserve by former President Donald Trump in 2017, who later sharply criticized his handpicked chairman.

Powell’s term as chair expires in February, and the White House has not said whether he will be reappointed.

According to CNN, under Powell, the Fed wasted little time responding forcefully to the economic fallout from the pandemic in March 2020. Economists have credited the Fed’s historic actions with helping to prevent a full-blown depression and financial crisis in the United States.

The Fed is tasked by Congress to maximize the number of American jobs while keeping inflation low. Although the Democrats in the statement credited the Powell-led Fed with making changes to how it approaches its goal of full employment, they voiced concern over his track record on the climate crisis and regulation.

“Under his leadership, the Federal Reserve has taken very little action to mitigate the risk climate change poses to our financial system,” the lawmakers said in the statement.

However, the Fed did join an international network of global financial regulators focused on climate change in late 2020. In June, Powell warned that the climate crisis poses “profound challenges for the global economy and certainly the financial system.”

The AOC-led statement also criticized the Fed for “weakening” financial regulations enacted after the Great Recession, including capital and liquidity requirements, stress tests and the Volcker Rule. Powell has previously disputed the argument that the Fed has weakened regulations.

The Fed chair is appointed by the president. The term lasts four years. Looking for continuity, former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama reappointed Fed chairs that were appointed by previous presidents, both of whom were Republicans. But Trump did not reappoint Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who was appointed by Obama.

A White House official told CNN on Tuesday that when it comes to appointing Fed officials, Biden “will appoint the candidates who[m] he thinks will be the most effective in implementing monetary policy.”

The Federal Reserve declined to comment.

Research contact: @CNN

House approves $3.5 trillion budget plan

August 26, 2021

On Tuesday, August 24, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget framework that will pave the way for Democrats to spend up to $3.5 trillion on a sweeping economic package to expand the social safety net that President Joe Biden has made a signature agenda item, reports CNN

.The House vote came after painstaking negotiations between progressive Democratic leaders and a group of moderates yielded a compromise that paved the way for passage.

Based on that compromise, the House voted on a rule to advance both the budget deal and a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Due to a procedural maneuver, passage of the rule also approved the budget resolution, bypassing a separate vote. In a concession to moderates, the rule also directs the House to take up the bipartisan bill by September 27.

“I’m sorry that we couldn’t land the plane [Monday] night, and that you all had to wait,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus on Tuesday morning, according to a Democratic aide in the room. “But that’s just part of the legislative progress … I think we’re close to landing the plane.”

The Senate approved the budget resolution earlier this month. Budget resolutions do not become law and are not signed by the President, but the framework will act as an important policy blueprint. Both chambers must adopt the resolution for Democrats to use a process known as budget reconciliation to later pass legislation addressing the climate crisis, aid for families, health care and more that cannot be defeated by a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

The budget resolution includes a set of instructions for House and Senate committees that will allow them to write reconciliation legislation with a total price tag of as much as $3.5 trillion. The final reconciliation package, once it is drafted, is expected to be considered in the fall.

With regard to the $3.5 trillion topline number for this package, the President has been clear: this is the number that will honor his vision to Build Back Better,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats over the weekend. “This is the number that has been agreed to in the Senate and is now before us in the House. Accordingly, we will write a reconciliation bill with the Senate that is consistent with that topline.”

Representative Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Texas, told CNN on Tuesday that “good progress” has been made when asked if moderates have reached a deal with leadership.

In a clear signal of the high stakes moment, Biden himself joined members of his senior team in making calls to some of the holdout moderates, according to a White House official. Biden’s senior aides and top legislative affairs officials have been in regular touch with the moderate group for several weeks and publicly backed Pelosi’s approach. But several House Democrats had quietly voiced desire for Biden himself to weigh in—something Biden did with some members Monday.

The optimistic tone Tuesday morning stood in stark contrast to the heated division on display Monday evening, when tension in the Democratic caucus came to a boiling point in a heated, expletive-laden meeting. Multiple sources confirmed that lawmakers grew visibly angry when Pelosi emphasized lawmakers shouldn’t “squander” the opportunity to pass these bills with their majority in the House.

Democrats have ambitious goals for the legislative package, which opens the door for them to implement key priorities across a wide range of policy issues. Republicans are steadfastly opposed to the effort and have denounced it as a reckless partisan tax and spending spree.

According to a summary of the budget resolution released after Democrats formally unveiled the measure the measure seeks to establish universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and make community college tuition-free for two years. Among other provisions, it calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps; adds new dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare coverage; and would make an “historic level” of investment in affordable housing.

The budget resolution sets a target date of September 15 for committees to submit their reconciliation legislation.

Democrats will ultimately be subject to constraints on what they can include under the budget reconciliation process. Provisions have to directly impact the budget, and the Senate parliamentarian may rule that certain priorities cannot be included as a result. The parliamentarian is responsible for advising the chamber on how its rules, protocols and precedents operate.

Research contact: @CNN

Biden under pressure from G7 leaders to extend Afghanistan withdrawal deadline

August 25, 2021

Amid criticism from U.S. allies over the chaotic withdrawal in Afghanistan and pressure to extend his August 31 deadline, President Joe Biden met virtually with G7 partners on Tuesday with just a week left to evacuate thousands of civilians and to pull out thousands of U.S. troop, ABC News reports.

At a press conference on Monday, August 23, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said leaders are meeting “to ensure the world’s leading democracies are aligned and united on the way forward,” adding, “We are working with partners to address the acute humanitarian needs of the Afghan people and we will remain persistently vigilant against the terrorism threat in Afghanistan and in multiple other theaters.”

According to ABC, as the deadline to evacuate looms, approximately 58,700 people have been evacuated from Kabul since August 14, when the Taliban took control of the government. Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 63,900 people.

Officials have been vague when asked how many Americans still need to be evacuated, only saying that there are “thousands”—and blaming it on citizens not registering with the U.S. Embassy when they arrive or deregistering when they leave.

Adding to the scramble to evacuate, U.S. officials are also concerned about a possible attack from ISIS-K at the airport, looking to exploit the situation of the packed crowds outside trying to gain entrance.

The U.S. has been working at a lightning pace to speed up evacuations as Taliban leaders have said that August 31 is a “red line” for troops to leave and doubled-down during a Tuesday, August 24, morning press conference, saying they will reject any U.S. military presence or evacuations past the end of the month.

President Biden has said that U.S. troops will stay until every American and Afghan SIV applicant has been evacuated, which is directly at odds with the Taliban’s position.

Their firm stance on that deadline comes after CIA Director William Burns met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar on Monday, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News—the highest level in-person meeting between a Biden administration official and the Taliban since the militant group took over Kabul.

“We are in talks with the Taliban on a daily basis through both political and security channels,” Sullivan said Monday before the Burns meeting was reported.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Biden defended the withdrawal and said he didn’t think it could have been handled any better.

“I don’t think it could have been handled in a way that, we’re gonna go back in hindsight and look—but the idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know how that happens,” he said.

The president also has conceded that the speed of which the Taliban took over the country was faster than expected.

The president has also spoken separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, among the G7 allies. He also has held calls with Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed.

Research contact: @abcnews

Education Department writes to Texas and Florida governors—backing schools amid mask mandate fight

August 17, 2021

On Friday, August 13, the U.S. Department of Education sent letters Friday to the Republican governors of Texas and Florida, as well as Florida school administrators, amid an escalating battle between the White House and state officials over school mask guidance as the Delta variant of COVID-19 surges, reports CNN.

In the latest letters to Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stressed that their respective states’ school mask policies go against “science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19” and sharply voiced the Biden administration’s support for the states’ educators.

Cardona wrote to DeSantis that he is “deeply concerned” by the governor’s executive order, issued last month, directing health and education departments to leave it to parents to decide if students wear masks. Cardona also took aim at the recent threat from the governor’s office that the state board of education could move to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who disregard his executive order, which effectively prohibits mask mandates.

“The Department recognizes that several school districts in your State have already moved to adopt such policies in line with guidance from the CDC for the reopening and operation of school facilities despite the State level prohibitions. The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” Cardona wrote in the letter, which was also addressed to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

In Texas, Abbott prohibits mask mandatesbut two judges there have issued restraining orders temporarily blocking the enforcement of his order. Cardona sent a similar warning to Abbott and the state’s education commissioner, Mike Morath, underscoring that “Texas’s recent actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts these goals at risk and may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”

Cardona’s direct messages come as President Joe Biden and members of his administration have specifically targeted the governors of Florida and Texas for standing in the way of mask and vaccine requirements—pointing to the extraordinary number of COVID cases and hospitalizations in their states.

CNN’s requests for comment from the offices of both governors and state education commissioners were not immediately returned Friday.

In Friday’s letter to DeSantis and Corcoran, Cardona pointed to how Florida school districts can use funds from federal COVID relief for educators’ salaries, noting that “any threat by Florida to withhold salaries from superintendents and school board members who are working to protect students and educators (or to levy other financial penalties) can be addressed using ESSER funds at the sole and complete discretion of Florida school districts.”

In the letter to the Florida Association of School Administrators on Friday, Cardona further emphasized the administration’s support for the state’s educators: “I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Education stands with you. Your decisions are vital to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction, and they are undoubtedly in the best interest of your students.”

Research contact: @CNN