Biden: US Buying 200 Million More COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

President Joe Biden said Tuesday the United States was buying 200 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate nearly the entire U.S. population of 300 million people by early fall. The U.S. has purchased 100 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 100 million of the Moderna vaccine. They will be delivered by the end of summer or early fall, Biden said. With this latest order, the U.S. will have purchased 600 million doses. “Not in hand yet, but ordered,” Biden said. “We expect these additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer.” People wait in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in Oklahoma City, Jan. 26, 2021.The administration also announced it will be increasing delivery of available vaccines to states for the next three weeks to ramp up vaccination rates. Biden said the administration was increasing doses to states from 8.6 million a week to 10.1 million next week. Biden also promised to provide states with firm vaccine allocation advisories three weeks ahead of delivery, which should allow state officials to more accurately plan for injections. There are more than 100 million confirmed cases worldwide of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 2.1 million deaths. The U.S. accounts for nearly a quarter of the cases, at nearly 25.5 million, and has recorded 424,690 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center statistics on Tuesday. A woman is vaccinated inside her vehicle at a mass COVID-19 vaccination site outside The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Jan. 26, 2021.Biden, who was sworn into office a week ago, pledged to provide 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office. He said during a news conference Tuesday that ending the pandemic would require a “war-time effort.” “More than 400,000 Americans have already died,” he said. “This is a war-time undertaking. It’s not hyperbole.” Harris vaccinatedAlso Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris received the second dose of her COVID-19 vaccine. Both Harris and Biden received their vaccinations on live television to help allay fears about the vaccine. Biden received his second dose before his swearing-in last week. Vice President Kamala Harris reacts after receiving her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md., Jan. 26, 2021.Pharmacist to plead guiltySteven Brandenburg, a Wisconsin pharmacist accused of trying to spoil dozens of vials of COVID-19 vaccine, has agreed to plead guilty in federal court. Brandenburg, 46, is charged with two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine on each count. Brandenburg was arrested December 31 after police investigated 57 vials — enough to inoculate more than 500 people — of the Moderna vaccine that had been left outside a refrigerator at a hospital in a Milwaukee suburb. Jason Baltz, Brandenburg’s attorney, declined to comment Tuesday to The Associated Press. 
 

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US Senate Confirms Biden Nominee as Secretary of State

The U.S. Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee Antony Blinken to lead the U.S. State Department on Tuesday. As VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, Blinken faces numerous challenges worldwide as the nation’s top diplomat.
Camera: Adam Greenbaum   Produced by: Katherine Gypson
 

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Biden, Putin Hold First Phone Discussions

For the first time since his inauguration, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Tuesday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, expressing concerns about the arrest of dissident Alexei Navalny, Moscow’s cyber-espionage campaign and bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, two senior Biden administration officials said.Biden’s stance appeared to mark another sharp break with that of former President Donald Trump, who often voiced delight at his warm relations with the Kremlin leader. At the same time, according to U.S. accounts of the call, Biden told Putin that Russia and the United States should complete a five-year extension of their nuclear arms control treaty before it expires in early February.There was no immediate readout of the call from Moscow, but Russia reached out to Biden in the first days of his four-year term in the White House. The U.S. leader agreed but only after he had prepared with his staff and had a chance for phone calls with three close Western allies of the U.S. — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.People gather in Pushkin Square during a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Jan. 23, 2021. Russian police arrested hundreds of protesters.It was not immediately known how Putin responded to Biden raising contentious issues between the two countries.Biden told reporters Monday that despite disagreements with Moscow, “I find that we can both operate in the mutual self-interest of our countries as a New START agreement and make it clear to Russia that we are very concerned about their behavior, whether it’s Navalny, whether it’s SolarWinds or reports of bounties on heads of Americans in Afghanistan.”Shortly before his call with Putin, Biden spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, reassuring him of the United States’s commitment to the West’s post-World War II military pact that was formed as an alliance against the threat of Russian aggression.During his White House tenure, Trump often quarreled with NATO allies, complaining they were not contributing enough money for their mutual defense.FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a their bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018.The former president was often deferential to Putin, rejecting claims in the U.S. from opposition Democrats that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help him win — a years-long saga that Trump derisively dismissed as “the Russia hoax.”Last year, Trump also questioned whether Russia was involved in the hack of software manufactured by the U.S. company SolarWinds that breached files at the departments of Commerce, Treasury and Energy.Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia was “pretty clearly” behind the cyberattack, but Trump claimed the attack was being overplayed by the U.S. media and that perhaps China was responsible.Before taking office, Biden said, “I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”Trump had also dismissed claims that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, another issue Biden pressed Putin on.Despite his conciliatory approach to Russia, Trump imposed sanctions on the country, Russian companies and business leaders over various issues, including Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine and attacks on dissidents.The Biden-Putin call followed pro-Navalny protests in more than 100 Russian cities last weekend, with more than 3,700 people arrested across Russia.Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s fiercest critic. He was arrested January 17 as he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering for nearly five months after a nerve-agent poisoning he claims was carried out by Russian agents, an accusation the Kremlin has rejected. 

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Biden Orders End of Federally Run Private Prisons

President Joe Biden ordered the Department of Justice on Tuesday to end its reliance on private prisons and acknowledge the central role government has played in implementing discriminatory housing policies.In remarks before signing the order, Biden said the U.S. government needs to change “its whole approach” on the issue of racial equity. He added that the nation is less prosperous and secure because of the scourge of systemic racism.”We must change now,” the president said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change. But government has to change as well.”Biden rose to the presidency during a year of intense reckoning on institutional racism in the U.S. The moves announced on Tuesday reflect his efforts to follow through with campaign pledges to combat racial injustice. Housing policiesBeyond calling on the Justice Department to curb the use of private prisons and address housing discrimination, the new orders will recommit the federal government to respect tribal sovereignty and disavow discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community over the coronavirus pandemic.Biden directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development in a memorandum to take steps to promote equitable housing policy. The memorandum calls for HUD to examine the effects of Trump regulatory actions that may have undermined fair housing policies and laws.Months before the November election, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that required communities that wanted to receive HUD funding to document and report patterns of racial bias.Stop ‘profiting off of incarceration’The order to end the reliance on privately-run prisons directs the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities. The move will effectively revert the Justice Department to the same posture it held at the end of the Obama administration.”This is a first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration,” Biden said.The more than 14,000 federal inmates housed at privately-managed facilities represent a small fraction of the nearly 152,000 federal inmates currently incarcerated.The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had already opted not to renew some private prison contracts in recent months as the number of inmates dwindled and thousands were released to home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic. Criticism of Biden moveGEO Group, a private company that operates federal prisons, called the Biden order “a solution in search of a problem.””Given the steps the BOP had already announced, today’s Executive Order merely represents a political statement, which could carry serious negative unintended consequences, including the loss of hundreds of jobs and negative economic impact for the communities where our facilities are located, which are already struggling economically due to the COVID pandemic,” a GEO Group spokesperson said in a statement.David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, noted that the order does not end the federal government’s reliance on privately-run immigration detention centers.”The order signed today is an important first step toward acknowledging the harm that has been caused and taking actions to repair it, but President Biden has an obligation to do more, especially given his history and promises,” Fathi said.The memorandum highlighting xenophobia against Asian Americans is in large part a reaction to what White House officials say was offensive and dangerous rhetoric from the Trump administration. Trump, throughout the pandemic, repeatedly used xenophobic language in public comments when referring to the coronavirus.This memorandum will direct Health and Human Services officials to consider issuing guidance describing best practices to advance cultural competency and sensitivity toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the federal government’s COVID-19 response. It also directs the Justice Department to partner with AAPI communities to prevent hate crimes and harassment. 
 

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Internet Outages, Slowdowns Reported from Boston to Washington

People from Boston to the Washington area were reporting internet outages or slow service Tuesday. According to Downdetector.com, which tracks outages, users reported problems with Verizon, Google, Zoom, YouTube, Slack and Amazon Web Services. Many of those services have become staples for millions of Americans working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Students attending school virtually also depend on the services. Verizon reported that a fiber cable in the city of New York borough of Brooklyn had been severed, but it was unclear if that was causing all the problems.  Downdetector also showed that Comcast users were reporting outages or slowdown. Comcast is a rival internet service provider. Amazon Web Services, which provides cloud services to many companies, also reported connectivity issues, according to The Washington Post. 

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EU Leader Urges US to Join Digital ‘Rule Book”’

The European Union (EU) Tuesday called upon the United States to join the alliance in creating a common rule book to rein in the power of internet companies like Facebook and Twitter to combat the spread of fake news as well as protect data.
In a wide-ranging virtual speech to the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted how much the world has changed by referencing last year’s EU concerns over the possibility of U.S. tariffs on European automobiles.
   
“Today, a year later, we are worrying about whether democracy itself might have been permanently damaged in the last four years,” said Von der Leyen. He also referenced the storming of the U.S. Capitol, calling it “beyond my imagination” and said it served as a reminder of the “dangers that social media poses to our democracy.”
The European Commission president called on U.S. President Joe Biden to join the 27-nation bloc’s efforts to better regulate tech platforms. She added there needs to be a “framework” for “far-reaching decisions” such as Twitter’s move to cut off former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account.
She said it needs to be clearly laid out how internet companies make decisions about disseminating, promoting or removing content.  
“No matter how tempting it may have been for Twitter to switch off President Trump’s account, such serious interference with freedom of expression should not be based on company rules alone,” said Von der Leyen. “There needs to be a framework of laws for such far-reaching decision.”
During Tuesday’s speech, Von der Leyen also urged pharmaceutical companies to “honor their obligations” on the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, saying the EU had invested billions in their development “for the common good.”
The bloc on Monday criticized pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, accusing it of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation.
The EU also expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech last week.

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Pets Are Back: Biden’s 2 Dogs Settle in at White House

The patter of paws is being heard in the White House again following the arrival of President Joe Biden’s dogs Champ and Major. The two German shepherds are the first pets to live at the executive mansion since the Obama administration.
Major burst onto the national scene late last year after Biden, then president-elect, broke his right foot while playing with the dog at their home in Wilmington, Delaware.FIRST DOGS Major and Champ Biden @firstdogsusa have moved into the White House. There has not been a pet in the WH since the Obamas departed four years ago; fmr. President Trump was the first in 100+ years not to have a pet in office. Pics by WH/Adam Schultz pic.twitter.com/uzY7ksNvyg— FIRST DOGS CHAMP & MAJOR BIDEN (@firstdogsusa) January 25, 2021The Bidens adopted Major in 2018 from the Delaware Humane Association. Champ joined the family after the 2008 presidential election that made Joe Biden vice president.
The dogs moved into the White House on Sunday, following Biden’s inauguration last week.
“The first family wanted to get settled before bringing the dogs down to Washington from Delaware,” said Michael LaRosa, spokesperson for first lady Jill Biden. “Champ is enjoying his new dog bed by the fireplace and Major loved running around on the South Lawn.”
The dogs were heard barking outside near the Oval Office on Monday as Biden signed an executive order lifting the previous administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Last week, the Delaware Humane Association cosponsored an “indoguration” virtual fundraiser to celebrate Major’s journey from shelter pup to first dog. More than $200,000 was raised.
Major is the first shelter dog to ever live in the White House and “barking proof that every dog can live the American dream,” the association said.
The Bidens had promised to bring the dogs with them to the White House. They plan to add a cat, though no update on the feline’s arrival was shared on Monday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki predicted, while on video answering questions from members of the public, that the cat will “dominate the internet” when it arrives.
Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, a self-described germaphobe, does not own any pets and had none with him at the White House.
Just like they do for ordinary people, pets owned by the most powerful people in the world provide their owners with comfort, entertainment, occasional drama and generally good PR.
“Pets have played an important role in the White House throughout the decades, not only by providing companionship to the presidents and their families, but also by humanizing and softening their political images,” said Jennifer Pickens, author of a book about pets at the White House.
Pets also serve as ambassadors to the White House, she said. Pickens added that she hoped the Bidens’ decision to bring a rescue dog to the White House might inspire others to adopt.
President Theodore Roosevelt had Skip, who is described by the White House Historical Association as a “short-legged Black and Tan mongrel terrier brought home from a Colorado bear hunt.” Warren G. Harding had Laddie Boy, who sat in on meetings and had his own Cabinet chair.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had his beloved terrier Fala. At night, Fala slept in a special chair at the foot of the president’s bed.
More recently, George H.W. Bush’s English springer spaniel Millie was featured on “The Simpsons” and starred in a bestseller, “Millie’s Book: As dictated to Barbara Bush.” Hillary Clinton followed Bush’s lead with a children’s book about family dog Buddy and cat Socks: “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.”
When he declared victory in the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama told his daughters: “You have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.” Several months later, Bo joined the family, a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy. A few years later, fellow Portuguese water dog Sunny arrived.
Among the stranger White House pets was Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge’s raccoon Rebecca. She was given to the Coolidge family by a supporter who suggested the raccoon be served for Thanksgiving dinner, according to the White House Historical Association. But instead she got an embroidered collar with the title “White House Raccoon” and entertained children at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Some notable pets belonged to first kids, including Amy Carter’s Siamese cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang, and Caroline Kennedy’s pony Macaroni. The Kennedy family had a veritable menagerie, complete with dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and a rabbit named Zsa Zsa.
President Harry Truman famously said that “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog” — and many successors have followed Truman’s advice. The first President Bush once said, “There is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog to help you get through the rough spots.”

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On Key Biden Priorities, There is Room for Bipartisan Agreement, Experts Say  

Less than one week into the administration of President Joe Biden, much of the talk in Washington is focused on the dysfunction on Capitol Hill, a spate of executive orders from the new president, and the looming impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. None of the three bodes well for bipartisan cooperation so pessimism might seem justified.   However, when experts look at the major policy areas that Biden identified in last week’s inaugural address, there are at least some areas where agreement across the aisle is a real possibility.    Coronavirus rescue package The Biden administration came out of the gate with a request for $1.9 trillion in spending on various programs related to the coronavirus pandemic, including major economic stimulus spending and a large investment in federal infrastructure to get the vaccine to as many Americans as it can, as quickly as it can.   FILE – Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are seen during a joint session of Congress in the House chamber in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to label the proposal “dead on arrival” because of its price tag, but some observers believe their initial reluctance might be overcome by the reality of the country’s economic situation.   “I think that even though people are calling it dead on arrival, there’s a lot in this bill that’s probably going to make it,” said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Few lawmakers, he said, are going to want to stand in the way of programs meant to get people inoculated against the virus, and while there will probably be some arguing about the size of stimulus payments, the popularity of that part of the proposal will make it difficult to kill off entirely.   On tax policy specifically, Gleckman believes there is considerable bipartisan agreement on a number of proposals that might turn up in the relief package or a follow-on bill. There is support for expanding the tax credit that filers receive for children under their care and for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless workers.   Gleckman said that Biden’s Made In America tax credit, meant to spur domestic manufacturing, will also likely have bipartisan support.   Immigration policy As with trade policy, Biden will confront a GOP that has made a sharp change of course on matters of immigration over the past several years. The Republican establishment had, for decades, been largely supportive of immigration, seeing it as a driver of economic demand and a source of lower-cost labor.   That began to change even before Trump, but the party took an even more aggressive anti-immigration stance under the former president.    FILE – Demonstrators with the New York Immigration Coalition rally asking President Joe Biden to prioritize immigration reform, Nov. 9, 2020, in New York.However, Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, believes there are still a number of pro-immigration Republicans who have been silent during the Trump years, but who could support some of the changes Biden is proposing.    For example, the Biden proposal would seek to streamline and expand the process for bringing skilled workers into the country — a move that could earn support from Republicans with ties to the business community.    Those less enthusiastic about immigration might support other initiatives, such as a proposal to allow the Department of Homeland Security to vary the number of green cards issued each year depending on economic conditions.   “This is actually something that the Migration Policy Institute has been advocating for years, because it doesn’t make sense that our immigration [volume] is set by law,” Pierce said. “It should be flexible and maintain a relationship with market conditions within the United States.”   Another Biden proposal, to increase the wages paid to temporary workers, could appeal to some who have opposed guest worker programs on the theory that migrant labor tends to drive down the wages of competing U.S. workers. 
 
Potential bipartisan agreement on immigration reform has limits, however. Biden’s most ambitious proposal, an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, mirrors efforts that withered and died in Congress during both the former Obama and George W. Bush administrations.   Climate change With the exception of a few outliers, Republicans in the House and Senate oppose most of the major climate initiatives that Biden and the majority of the Democratic Party are advocating. The announcement that on his first day in office Biden had recommitted the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, for instance, was met with angry denunciations from multiple Republican members of Congress.   FILE – Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holding his granddaughter, Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson, signs the book during the signature ceremony for the Paris Agreement at the United Nations General Assembly Hall, April 22, 2016, in New York.However, the GOP’s objections to dealing with climate change are regularly overridden when they conflict with national security interests, said Erin Sikorsky, deputy director of the Center for Climate and Security.   “In the past four years, you’ve actually seen that the House and Senate have passed pragmatic climate security legislation, usually through the National Defense Authorization Act each year, and so I think that’s definitely an area where the Biden administration can find bipartisan consensus with Congress,” she said.   This will be cold comfort to most environmental activists, however, as the measures are largely reactive rather than proactive, including steps like making military bases more resistant to extreme weather and funding programs that allow climate scientists to interact with the intelligence community.   Trade policy The debate over trade has shifted dramatically in the four years since Joe Biden last served in the White House as vice president. Under Trump, the GOP radically reshaped its position on trade, following the former president’s lead by supporting tariffs and protectionism. That, perhaps surprisingly, makes trade one of the areas ripest for bipartisan cooperation.   “Trade is an issue on which, in terms of actual policy, the incoming Biden administration is closer to Trump than on most other, or maybe nearly all other, issues,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.    Within the Biden administration, he said, the prevailing view is that “the goal of trade should not be foremost to follow the law of comparative advantage and try to enlarge two-way commerce, but rather to advance labor, environmental and human rights and, as needed, protect jobs.”   FILE – Visitors chat near American and Chinese flags displayed at a booth for an American company promoting environmental sensors during the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Nov. 7, 2019.Biden has appointed Katherine Tai, a trade attorney who speaks Mandarin and has a history of challenging the trade practices of the Chinese government, as U.S. Trade Representative. Her past support for tough-on-China policies has earned her bipartisan support in Congress. Early indications also suggest that the Biden administration may believe, as many trade economists do, that the center of power in international trade has moved away from the World Trade Organization and toward a network of individual trade agreements, many of them bilateral.   A lingering question will be the U.S. position with regard to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a pact that creates a massive free trade zone in the Pacific region. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord, which had been largely negotiated by the Obama administration, a move that was supported by many Democrats.   However, now the United Kingdom and China are both looking to join the CPTPP. The participation of two more major U.S. trading partners in the accord — and especially China — may leave Biden’s team wondering whether it wouldn’t be preferable to have a seat at the table as a counter to Chinese influence. 

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