What Now?! – 5/25/21

“A prominent opponent of Belarus’ authoritarian president was arrested Sunday after the airliner in which he was traveling was diverted to the country after a bomb threat, in what the opposition and Western officials denounced as a hijacking operation by the government,” the AP reports.

Said one passenger: “I saw this Belarusian guy with girlfriend sitting right behind us. He freaked out when the pilot said the plane is diverted to Minsk. He said there’s death penalty awaiting him there.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Belarus for faking a bomb threat in order to force down a Ryanair flight and arrest a dissident journalist. “This shocking act,” Blinken said, “perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens. Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation.” The European Union, meanwhile, called on all E.U. airlines to avoid flying over Belarus and ban Belarusian airlines from flying over the bloc’s airspace or landing in its airports.

“European leaders on Monday agreed to significantly toughen sanctions on Belarus and to bar European Union airlines from flying over the country’s airspace, dealing a potentially crushing blow to the economy, a day after Belarusian authorities forced down a civilian jet and pulled off a dissident journalist,” the Washington Post reports.

“The measures, backed by all 27 E.U. leaders, were an unusually fast and powerful response to the brazen move by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who on Sunday sent a MiG-29 fighter jet to snatch a Ryanair plane out of the sky as it was flying from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, and arrest one of its passengers, Roman Protasevich, the founder of an opposition media outlet.”

New York Times: “There was no indication, however, that the intensified squeeze would alter Mr. Lukashenko’s resolve — especially with President Vladimir Putin of Russia steadfast in his support.”

Wall Street Journal: What happened to the Ryanair flight?

Washington Post: “The burst of legislating that characterized the first few months of the Biden administration — from the signing of $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief into law to swift passage of several Democratic priorities in the House — has slowed dramatically. The White House’s hopes for meaningful policy achievements hinge on a handful of critical ongoing negotiations, centered mainly in the Senate, and each of those is now struggling to move forward.”

“For weeks, a trio of negotiators on policing have been tied up over how much immunity — if any — law enforcement officers accused of misconduct should enjoy from lawsuits. A bipartisan group of senators has also quietly discussed expanding background checks for gun purchases, a weeks-long back-and-forth that the lead Democrat involved said was ‘frustrating.’”

“Immigration continues to vex GOP and Democratic lawmakers, as Republicans remain wary about granting legalization to undocumented immigrants as long as migrants, including unaccompanied children, continue to arrive at the southern border in large numbers. And on voting, Senate Democrats, who hold the barest of majorities, have not even rounded up unanimous support within their ranks, much less the 10 GOP votes that would be needed to clear legislation through their chamber.”

First Read: “As for Biden’s non-Covid-related agenda, two of the president’s self-imposed deadlines are coming up.”

“One of those includes reaching a deal on police reform by the anniversary of George Floyd’s death (which is tomorrow), and making ‘progress’ with Senate Republicans on infrastructure by Memorial Day.”

“And so unless something radically changes today and this week, Congress is going to blow past both deadlines.”

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told CNN that President Joe Biden will “change course” on his massive infrastructure bill if inaction on the costly proposal seems inevitable.

Said Richmond: “He wants a deal. He wants it soon, but if there’s meaningful negotiations taking place in a bipartisan manner, he’s willing to let that play out. But again, he will not let inaction be the answer. And when he gets to the point where it looks like that is inevitable, you’ll see him change course.”

Politico: “President Joe Biden’s party is gearing up to sprint through Washington’s sweltering season, trying to squeeze through a long list of top legislative priorities in barely two months. With Biden’s sprawling infrastructure plan stuck in bipartisan talks, a voting rights bill mired in the Senate and the fate of police reform hanging in the air, Democrats acknowledge that time is not necessarily on their side.”

“That’s on top of Congress’ regular to-do list, which includes averting a showdown over both the federal budget and the debt limit by September. To get those goals passed, both parties will need to be in lockstep — the kind of cooperation that’s been in short supply in the Capitol since the Jan. 6 insurrection, with tensions still high on both sides.”

Politico: “Senate Republicans negotiating with the White House sounded dour notes on Monday evening and are mulling whether to even make a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s proposal last week. Democrats are increasingly calling for Biden to consider going it alone rather than see the GOP water down his agenda.”

“An unofficial deadline for a bipartisan accord on infrastructure hits a week from now and negotiators are some $1.5 trillion apart, with severe differences in both size and scope, after more than a month of talks.”

Said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI): “We’re too far apart. Because I think Mitch’s ultimate purpose is not compromise but delay and mischief.”

President Biden will meet privately with the family of George Floyd on Tuesday, the first anniversary of his murder, the Washington Post reports.

Washington Post: “Current and former advisers say Biden’s typical day reveals a creature of habit with well-worn routines and favorite treats, from orange Gatorade to chocolate chip cookies; a tactile politician eager to escape the Washington bubble who meets privately with people who write him letters; and the patriarch of a sprawling Irish-Catholic clan who abruptly interrupts high-level meetings to take calls from family members.”

“It marks a sharp contrast with former president Donald Trump, whose days often ran both early and late with tweets that were frequently angry or inflammatory, and whose time was often consumed by rambling rallies, spontaneous calls to TV hosts and random, unscripted activities. Depending on the viewpoint, Biden has restored routine and order to the White House — or removed the freewheeling passion.”

“With the world barely through the worst of an unprecedented crisis, central bankers are already wondering if the next one is around the corner,” Bloomberg  reports.

“From Washington to Frankfurt, what began months ago as a murmur of concern has morphed into a chorus as officials ask if a risk-taking binge across multiple asset markets might presage a destabilizing rout that could derail the global recovery.”

Financial Times: “The Federal Reserve may need to recalibrate its policy toolkit, analysts say, as a glut of cash sloshing through the US financial system has made it more difficult for the central bank to maintain tight control of its policy rate.”

“House Republicans will be urged to lean into voters’ fear of inflation and link it to enacting the White House’s economic agenda,” Axios reports.

“A memo being sent by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) who leads the Republican Study Committee, comes as some economists are increasingly concerned President Biden is doing too much, too fast, and his spending will crank up inflation.”

“Not only could rising prices jeopardize the Democrats’ chances in next year’s midterms but they could threaten Biden’s economic legacy.”

“China accused the U.S. of promoting theories that the coronavirus escaped from a high-security lab in Wuhan, as a fresh report about sick workers at the facility prompted Beijing to reaffirm denials,” Bloomberg reports.

“Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the Covid-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The disclosure of the number of researchers, the timing of their illnesses and their hospital visits come on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into Covid-19’s origins.”

China’s leading diplomat will travel to Russia on Monday for security talks, the latest sign of deepening ties between Beijing and Moscow, the Financial Times reports. Putin said last week that the ties between the two countries had reached “the best level in history.”

“Add another obstacle to the growing list President Joe Biden faces in his negotiations over his massive spending plans: mounting opposition to one of the ways to pay for his proposal — growing the IRS,” Politico reports.

“Conservative groups have launched a campaign of TV ads, social media messages and emails to supporters criticizing the proposal to hire nearly 87,000 new IRS workers over the next decade to collect money from tax cheats.”

“An obscure security unit tasked with protecting the Commerce Department’s officials and facilities has evolved into something more akin to a counterintelligence operation that collected information on hundreds of people inside and outside the department,” the Washington Post reports.

“The Investigations and Threat Management Service covertly searched employees’ offices at night, ran broad keyword searches of their emails trying to surface signs of foreign influence and scoured Americans’ social media for critical comments about the census.”

“President Donald Trump’s former ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is suing former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the U.S. government for $1.8 million to compensate for legal fees incurred during the 2019 House impeachment probe,” the Washington Post reports.

“The suit, filed Monday in federal court in the District of Columbia, alleges that Pompeo reneged on his promise that the State Department would cover the fees after Sondland delivered bombshell testimony accusing Trump and his aides of pressuring the government of Ukraine to investigate then presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for military aid.”

The article is yet another profile of Trump insider turned outcast.

Washington Examiner: “Thousands of National Guard troops stationed at the U.S. Capitol since the Jan. 6 riots have left the campus, leaving security solely up to the Capitol Police for the first time in more than four months.”

Washington Post: “Several Democratic members have privately expressed their concerns to leadership about security back home as threats have risen.”

“Some of these Democrats said they have paid out of their own pocket to increase security at their district offices or install security systems in their homes out of an abundance of caution.

“Members’ concerns have been validated by the U.S. Capitol Police, who report that threats against lawmakers have increased by 107 percent in just the first five months of the year compared with last year.”

Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) denounced comments made by fellow Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) who compared the mask policy on the House floor to the Holocaust, calling them “beyond reprehensible,” The Hill reports.

Said Meijer: “Any comparisons to the Holocaust, it’s beyond reprehensible. This is, I don’t even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that frankly amps up and plays into a lot of the antisemitism that we’ve been seeing in our society today.”

HuffPost: Liz Cheney calls Greene’s comments “evil lunacy.”

Reuters: “Britain’s early plan to combat COVID-19 was a ‘disaster’ and ‘awful decisions’ led to the government imposing lockdowns that could have been avoided, Prime Minister Boris Johnson former top adviser said.

“Dominic Cummings, who left Johnson’s staff late last year, made his comments in a series of tweets just days before he is due to give evidence to members of parliament about the government’s handling of the pandemic. Before his sudden departure, Cummings had been Johnson’s most influential adviser on Brexit and played an important role in his successful 2019 election campaign.”

Financial Times: “Boris Johnson will face some of his toughest questions yet as prime minister this week as his estranged chief adviser Dominic Cummings prepares to give unfiltered testimony on the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“The man who was at Johnson’s right hand side for more than a year has drip fed allegations of incompetence and inept decision-making through tweets and blog posts. Now, he intends to back up his central allegation, that thousands of deaths could have been avoided, with public testimony.”

“As the Biden administration contemplates how to return the massive federal workforce to the office, government officials are moving to make a pandemic experiment permanent by allowing more employees than ever to work from home — a sweeping cultural change that would have been unthinkable a year ago,” the Washington Post reports.

“The shift across the government, whose details are still being finalized, comes after the risk-averse federal bureaucracy had fallen behind private companies when it came to embracing telework — a posture driven by a perception that employees would slack off unless they were tethered to their office cubicles.”

Washington Post: “President Biden will announce Monday afternoon that he’s doubling the amount of money the U.S. government will spend helping communities prepare for extreme weather events, while launching a new effort at NASA to collect more sophisticated climate data.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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