From 3d ago 18.02 Blinken: ‘No sign Putin is serious about meaningful negotiations’ Antony Blinken is still answering questions from senators on the foreign relations committee, and says that the US “has seen no sign to date” that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin wants to end the Ukraine conflict through diplomacy. 01:03 Antony Blinken: US ‘broadly aligned’ with Ukraine’s needs – video The secretary of state has been on the stand for almost three hours, and was confronted by the Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who wanted to know why the Biden administration was “agitating” for Ukraine to join Nato. Blinken denied the assertion: These are sovereign decisions for nations to make. This goes to the heart of the international system and order, the basic principle that one country can’t dictate to another the choices it makes as to whom it allies. It is abundantly clear, in Putin’s own words, that this was never about Ukraine being potentially part of Nato. It was always about his belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign independent country [and] that it must be reassumed into Russia in one form or another.” Blinken said the US is “not going to be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians”: These are decisions for them to make. Our purpose is to make sure that they have within their hands the ability to repel the Russian aggression, and, indeed, to strengthen their hand at an eventual negotiating table. We’ve seen no sign to date that President Putin is serious about meaningful negotiations. If he is, and if the Ukrainians engage, we’ll support that. As for how the war ends, Blinken said: The end state should be determined by the Ukrainians as a sovereign, independent country.
Updated at 20.20 BST
3d ago 21.09 Closing summary We’re closing our blog for today, thanks for joining us on a fast-moving day in US politics. Secretary of state Antony Blinken gave an account of his weekend trip to Ukraine to the Senate foreign relations committee, telling lawmakers there was no sign of Russian president Vladimir Putin wanting to end the war through diplomacy. The White House, meanwhile, says it’s focused on “reducing the rhetoric” after Russia warned of a “considerable risk” of the conflict in Ukraine turning nuclear. You’ll find all the developments in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on our live news blog here. Here’s what else we were looking at today: Vice-president Kamala Harris , and Democratic senators Chris Murphy and Ron Wyden , tested positive for Covid-19 in a new wave of infections on Capitol Hill.
, and Democratic senators and , tested positive for Covid-19 in a new wave of infections on Capitol Hill. The government’s new pandemic response coordinator Dr Ashish Jha said the US was “at an inflection point” over coronavirus and repeated the administration’s call for Congress to fund vaccines, treatments and testing.
said the US was “at an inflection point” over coronavirus and repeated the administration’s call for Congress to fund vaccines, treatments and testing. Conservative supreme court justice Amy Coney Barrett hinted she might be amenable to the Biden administration’s argument that a Trump-era policy keeping asylum seekers in Mexico must end.
hinted she might be amenable to the Biden administration’s argument that a Trump-era policy keeping asylum seekers in Mexico must end. The attorney general Merrick Garland testified to a Senate subcommittee that the justice department would support legislation directing seized Russian oligarchs’ assets to help Ukraine.
Updated at 21.13 BST
3d ago 20.51 The White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was focused on “reducing the rhetoric” following Russia’s warning that the risk of the Ukraine war turning into a nuclear conflict were “considerable”: As some of our national security officials made clear, there’s no winning a nuclear war. And obviously our objective continues to be to call on reducing the rhetoric, on taking the rhetoric on that front down. She said Germany’s reversal of policy today to send anti-aircraft weapons to assist Ukraine was significant: The announcement… is in line with announcements we’ve seen by a number of European countries in providing assistance they have never before provided. This is an unprecedented change to provide lethal aid to another country. That really speaks to the unity of Nato, of European countries, and confronting what we see as a horrific war in Ukraine launched by the Russians. Read more: Germany to send anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine in policy shift Read more
3d ago 20.35 White House unveils Covid-19 strategies, says pandemic ‘at inflection point’ The Biden administration’s new pandemic response coordinator Dr Ashish Jha is at the podium in the White House briefing room explaining a four-point coronavirus strategy being rolled out today. Covid-19 in the US is at “an inflection point” Jha said in his first public briefing as he called on Congress to finally agree a relief package that the administration argues it needs to fund vaccines, testing and treatments: We know the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron has become dominant cases and are rising across the country. But hospitalizations are at the lowest level of the pandemic and deaths are continuing to fall. We’re down to about 300 deaths a day, still too many, still too high, but doing so much better than we have been. So far, Congress has not stepped up to provide the funds for our most urgent needs. We may get a whole new generation of vaccines in the fall or winter that may be more effective and more durable. None of those are going to be available to the American people if we don’t get funding. We are tracking new treatments that are coming online that are as effective and even more effective, with fewer side effects. Those treatments will not be available to Americans because other countries are stepping up and making purchases for those treatments while we await funding from Congress. The White House has asked for more than $22bn in new Covid relief funds. A $10bn compromise agreed by a bipartisan group of senators fell apart in a wrangle over immigration policy. Today’s strategy reveal includes doubling the availability of the antiviral medicine Paxlovid, a new wave of federally-run test-to-treatment sites, issuing better tools and guidance to medical providers and improving communication with the public over the safety of vaccines and treatments.
3d ago 20.11 Joe Biden will speak at a memorial service in Minnesota on Sunday for the former vice-president Walter Mondale, who died last April aged 93, the Associated Press says. Walter Mondale. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP The president has described Mondale as a “dear friend and mentor” and “one of our nation’s most dedicated patriots and public servants” after his death. Other confirmed speakers at the University of Minnesota include Governor Tim Walz, US senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and presidential historian Jon Meacham. Mondale was vice-president to Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, but was blown out in the 1984 presidential election after the Democratic candidate told voters to expect a tax increase if he won. He went on to serve as ambassador to Japan under President Bill Clinton.
3d ago 19.26 The Washington Post is reporting that Daleep Singh, the Biden administration official who has overseen the sanctions response against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, is to take an extended leave of absence “for family reasons”. His leave is expected to begin next month, but the exact timing and length are still being finalized, the Post said. No further details were given for the reason.
Singh is deputy national security adviser and a deputy at the national economic council. He was tasked with explaining to the public and media the sanctions imposed by the US against Russian Vladimir Putin’s regime. The Post says that Mike Pyle, chief economic adviser to vice-president Kamala Harris, is among those under consideration to fill the role. The White House declined to comment.
Updated at 19.26 BST
3d ago 19.09 Supreme court justices hint at support for Biden immigration policy In what would be an eye-raising development in the US supreme court, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Donald Trump appointee, gave the appearance of siding with the Biden administration over the termination of a restrictive immigration policy.
The Associated Press is reporting that justices on Tuesday questioned lower-court orders that have blocked the administration from ending the controversial Trump-era “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum-seekers. Amy Coney Barrett. Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP Questions from conservative and liberal justices during nearly two hours of arguments suggested that the court could be amenable to lifting the block, which Republican states Texas and Missouri are arguing to stay in place. Elizabeth Prelogar, Joe Biden’s top supreme court lawyer, told the justices the law does not contain a provision requiring migrants to be returned to Mexico and that there is a “significant public benefit” to releasing migrants who pass criminal background and other checks into the US, keeping detention beds free for more dangerous people, the AP reported. “You lose if the government is right about what significant public interest is,” Barrett said in an exchange with the Texas solicitor general Judd Stone II. Liberal justice Elena Kagan asked Stone what he would propose if Mexico refused to cooperate. “What are we supposed to do, drive truckloads of people to Mexico and leave them in Mexico?” she asked. Chief Justice John Roberts, who sometimes sides with the court’s liberal minority, said he was sympathetic with the administration’s position that it cannot detain everyone or possibly comply with the law. Read more: Biden seeks supreme court go-ahead to end Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy Read more
Updated at 20.29 BST
3d ago 18.43 Joanna Walters Joe Biden will have a virtual meeting with Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday and the two will discuss migration as well as a forthcoming summit meeting. Obrador’s office said that the US government had asked for the planned virtual meeting between the two leaders, Reuters noted. Earlier, Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that the meeting would focus on the upcoming Summit of the Americas, and issues of bilateral interest such as migration and economic development in Central America. Families with children live in the Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter with refugee migrants from Central and South American countries including Honduras and Haiti seeking asylum in the United States, as Title 42 and Remain In Mexico border restrictions continue, in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on April 9, 2022. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images In the US, the Biden administration is seeking the US supreme court’s go-ahead to end a controversial Trump-era immigration program that forces many seeking asylum in the US to wait in Mexico for their hearings. The justices are hearing arguments on Tuesday in the administration’s appeal of lower-court rulings that required immigration officials to reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy that the administration “has twice determined is not in the interests of the United States,” according to court filings. Texas and Missouri, which sued to keep the program in place, said it has helped reduce the flow of people into the US at the southern border. About 70,000 people were enrolled in the program, formally known as migrant protection protocols, after Donald Trump launched it in 2019 as president and made it a centerpiece of efforts to deter asylum seekers. Biden suspended it on his first day in office in 2021 and department of homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ended it in June 2021. In October, DHS produced additional justifications for the policy’s demise, to no avail in the courts. The program resumed in December, but barely 3,000 migrants had enrolled by the end of March, during a period when authorities stopped migrants about 700,000 times at the border. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Louisiana said on Monday that he intends to rule that US authorities cannot immediately proceed with plans to lift pandemic restrictions that empowered US agents at the Mexico border to turn back migrants without giving them a chance to seek asylum, a rule known as Title 42. US district judge Robert Summerhays stated his intention after a hearing in a case brought by 21 states against the Biden administration. The judge said both sides would confer regarding the specific terms of a temporary restraining order and would attempt to reach agreement. The ruling would upend a decision by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to terminate the Title 42 border order by May 23. You can read more on this here.
3d ago 18.02 Blinken: ‘No sign Putin is serious about meaningful negotiations’ Antony Blinken is still answering questions from senators on the foreign relations committee, and says that the US “has seen no sign to date” that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin wants to end the Ukraine conflict through diplomacy. 01:03 Antony Blinken: US ‘broadly aligned’ with Ukraine’s needs – video The secretary of state has been on the stand for almost three hours, and was confronted by the Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who wanted to know why the Biden administration was “agitating” for Ukraine to join Nato. Blinken denied the assertion: These are sovereign decisions for nations to make. This goes to the heart of the international system and order, the basic principle that one country can’t dictate to another the choices it makes as to whom it allies. It is abundantly clear, in Putin’s own words, that this was never about Ukraine being potentially part of Nato. It was always about his belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign independent country [and] that it must be reassumed into Russia in one form or another.” Blinken said the US is “not going to be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians”: These are decisions for them to make. Our purpose is to make sure that they have within their hands the ability to repel the Russian aggression, and, indeed, to strengthen their hand at an eventual negotiating table. We’ve seen no sign to date that President Putin is serious about meaningful negotiations. If he is, and if the Ukrainians engage, we’ll support that. As for how the war ends, Blinken said: The end state should be determined by the Ukrainians as a sovereign, independent country.
Updated at 20.20 BST
3d ago 17.42 Vice-president Kamala Harris tests positive for Covid-19 The vice-president Kamala Harris has tested positive for Covid-19, her office has announced. A statement from Harris’s press secretary Kirsten Allen said: Today, vice-president Harris tested positive for Covid-19 on rapid and PCR tests. She has exhibited no symptoms, will isolate and continue to work from the vice-president’s residence. She has not been a close contact to the president or First Lady due to their respective recent travel schedules. She will follow CDC guidelines and the advice of her physicians. The vice-president will return to the White House when she tests negative. Kamala Harris. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP Two US senators announced Tuesday that they have also tested positive, Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Ron Wyden of Oregon. Murphy, a member of the Senate foreign relations committee, appeared remotely this morning to ask questions of secretary of state Antony Blinken. The White House press briefing this afternoon will feature the Biden administration’s new pandemic response coordinator Dr Ashish Jha. You can expect questions about this new wave of Capitol Hill infections. After routine testing today, I tested positive for COVID-19 and am experiencing minor symptoms. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated and boosted to protect themselves and their families. I’ll be continuing my work for Oregonians from my residence in DC until I test negative. — Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) April 26, 2022 FYI after feeling mild symptoms overnight, I tested positive for COVID this morning. We’ve done the contact tracing and let people know. It’s a bummer, but I’m sure if I wasn’t fully vaccinated I would be feeling a lot worse. So remember to get your booster! — Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) April 26, 2022
3d ago 17.00 Joe Biden has confirmed he has followed through on his promise to issue pardons and commutations of sentences today for dozens of people convicted of non-violent drugs offenses. In tweets from the White House this morning, the president pledged that his administration “will continue to review clemency petitions and deliver reforms that advance equity and justice, provide second chances, and enhance the wellbeing and safety of all Americans.” America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation. During Second Chance Month, I am using my authority under the Constitution to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow Americans. — President Biden (@POTUS) April 26, 2022
3d ago 16.44 Garland: ‘Seized oligarchs’ assets should benefit Ukraine’ Also on Capitol Hill this morning, the US attorney general Merrick Garland has been testifying to a Senate appropriations subcommittee about Ukraine. According to the Washington Post, he told lawmakers that the justice department would support legislation so that some assets seized from Russian oligarchs go directly to Ukraine. Merrick Garland answers questions during a senate appropriations subcommittee hearing today. Photograph: Greg Nash/Reuters Garland was asked what happens to the money and property that the US seizes as part of its efforts to punish Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, the newspaper said. “The department announced last month it was stepping up its crackdown on Russian oligarchs and had formed a task force – Task Force KleptoCapture – to enforce US sanctions, in part by seizing assets belonging to those targeted by such measures,” the Post said. Garland said that currently any money or property that is seized goes into the department’s assets forfeiture fund, which is used to pay for certain investigative expenses and manage seized assets, such as paying the mortgage on a home. “We would support legislation that would allow some of that money to go directly to Ukraine,” Garland said, the Post reported. “That’s not the current circumstance with respect to the fund.”
Updated at 17.03 BST
3d ago 16.25 Martin Pengelly Hours after the deadly Capitol attack on 6 January 2021, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, told a reporter he was “exhilarated” because he thought Donald Trump had finally lost his grip on the party. Close to a year and a half later, however, with midterm elections looming, Trump retains control over the GOP and is set to be its presidential candidate in 2024. What’s more, McConnell has said he will support Trump if so. Mitch McConnell. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA McConnell’s short-lived glee over Trump’s apparent downfall is described in This Will Not Pass, an explosive new book by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns of the New York Times which will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy. The two authors describe a meeting between one of them and McConnell at the Capitol early on 7 January 2021. The day before, a mob Trump told to “fight like hell” in service of his lie about electoral fraud attempted to stop certification of Joe Biden’s election victory by forcing its way into the Capitol. A bipartisan Senate committee connected seven deaths to the attack. In the aftermath, 147 Republicans in the House and Senate nonetheless lodged objections to electoral results. According to Martin and Burns, McConnell told staffers Trump was a “despicable human being” he would now fight politically. Then, on his way out of the Capitol, the authors say, McConnell met one of them and “made clear he wanted a word”. “What do you hear about the 25th amendment?” they say McConnell asked, “eager for intelligence about whether his fellow Republicans were discussing removing Trump from office” via the constitutional process for removing a president incapable of the office. Burns and Martin say McConnell “seemed almost buoyant”, telling them Trump was now “pretty thoroughly discredited”. “He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” McConnell is quoted as saying. “Couldn’t have happened at a better time.” Read more: McConnell was ‘exhilarated’ by Trump’s apparent January 6 downfall, book says Read more
3d ago 16.04 Blinken said congressional approval of Joe Biden’s overall budget request to Congress for state department funding, and his upcoming request for more dollars for humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine, was crucial in helping the country rebuff Russia’s aggression: Fully funding is critical in my judgment to ensuring that Russia’s war in Ukraine is a strategic failure for the Kremlin, and serves as a powerful lesson to those who might consider following its path. Biden said last week, as he announced another $800m in heavy military equipment, that he was close to exhausting the existing approval, and would be asking this week for more money. The final amount of the request has yet to be determined, but the US has so far spent more than $4bn in security assistance alone. Blinken said: We were able to equip them with what they needed. For every tank that the Russians have had in Ukraine, we’ve managed with 30 allies and partners in one way or another to provide about 10 anti-armor systems. For every plane that the Russians have flown in the skies there have been about 10 anti-aircraft munitions of one kind or another. But the nature of this battle is changing to eastern and southern Ukraine. They’re adapting to that. we’re adapting to that.
Updated at 16.08 BST
3d ago 15.50 Blinken praises Ukraine resistance, ‘battle for Kyiv is won’ Ukraine “was and will continue to be a free and independent country” Antony Blinken has told US senators, reflecting on his weekend trip to the country with the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, which he says “left an indelible impression.” Addressing the Senate’s foreign relations committee, the secretary of state also said the US “must not let up” in its support for Ukraine, having already committed almost $15bn in humanitarian and military aid and with Joe Biden set to ask Congress for more this week. In his opening address before questions, Blinken said: For all the carnage that Russia’s brutal invasion continues to inflict, Ukraine was and will continue to be a free and independent country. It’s impossible not to be moved by what the Ukrainians have achieved. It’s also impossible not to believe that they will keep succeeding because they know why they fight. I have to tell you, I felt some pride in what the United States has done to support the Ukrainian government and its people and an even firmer conviction that we must not let up. Moscow’s war of aggression against Ukraine has underscored the power and purpose of American diplomacy. Our diplomacy has rallied allies and partners around the world to join us in supporting Ukraine with security, economic humanitarian assistance, imposing massive costs on the Kremlin, strengthening our collective security defense, addressing the war’s mounting global consequences, including refugee and food crises. We will, we have to continue to drive that diplomacy forward. Blinken said he and Austin were impressed by what they saw in terms of Ukraine’s resilience: As we took the train across the border, and rode westward into Ukraine, we saw mile after mile of Ukrainian countryside, territory that just a couple of months ago the Russian government thought that it could seize in a matter of weeks, today firmly Ukraine’s. In Kyiv we saw the signs of a vibrant city coming back to life, people eating outside sitting on benches, strolling around, it was right in front of us. The Ukrainians have won the battle for Kyiv.
Updated at 16.07 BST
3d ago 15.22 Senate hearing begins to hear Blinken’s Ukraine testimony A hearing of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee is under way on Capitol Hill, chair Bob Menendez welcoming the secretary of state Antony Blinken to testify about his recent visit to Ukraine, and slamming Russia’s invasion of the country. The New Jersey Democrat framed the conflict as one between “violent autocrats [and] those of us fighting for a rules based international order for democracy, human rights and cause of freedom around the world.” Blinken will give an account of his weekend trip to meet Ukraine’s leaders, including president Volodymyr Zelenskiiy, with defense secretary Lloyd Austin. “Your recent trip to Ukraine with Secretary Austin to show support for President Zelinskiiy and the Ukrainian people, and to continue shining a light on Russia’s military brazen abuse of civilians that certainly amount to war crimes, was a critical display of that unity,” Menendez told Blinken.
Updated at 15.25 BST
3d ago 15.06 Hugo Lowell Days before Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene appeared in a text to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to press for Donald Trump to overturn his 2020 election defeat by invoking martial law, new messages show. The message – one of more than 2,000 texts turned over by Meadows to the House select committee investigating January 6 and first reported by CNN – shows that some of Trump’s most ardent allies on Capitol Hill were pressing for Trump to return himself to office even after the Capitol attack. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Photograph: John Bazemore/AP “In our private chat with only Members several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call Marshall [sic] law,” Greene texted on 17 January. “I just wanted you to tell him. They stole this election. We all know. They will destroy our country next.”
The message about Trump potentially invoking martial law, earlier reported by CNN on Monday and confirmed by the Guardian, came a month after the idea had been raised in a heated Oval Office meeting a month before, where Trump considered ways to overturn the 2020 election. Meadows did not appear to respond to Greene’s text. But the messages Trump’s top White House aide was receiving shows the extraordinary ideas swirling around Trump after he and his operatives were unable to stop the certification of Biden’s election win on January 6. Greene – one of Trump’s fiercest far-right defenders on Capitol Hill – also texted Meadows days before the Capitol attack asking about how to prepare for objections to Biden’s win at the joint session of Congress, the text messages show. “Good morning Mark, I’m here in DC. We have to get organized for the 6th,” Greene wrote on 31 December. “I would like to meet with Rudy Giuliani again. We didn’t get to speak with him long. Also anyone who can help. We are getting a lot of members on board.” Read more: Marjorie Taylor Greene texted Trump chief of staff urging martial law to overturn election Read more
3d ago 14.51 Biden seeks to boost racial justice resume with pardons Joe Biden will today issue the first pardons of his administration, and unveil a package of help for former inmates re-entering society, as he seeks to strengthen his social and racial justice resume ahead of November’s midterm elections. The president is announcing three pardons, for individuals he says have “demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities”.
An additional 75 people convicted of non-violent drugs offenses will also see their sentences commuted.
Recognizing April as “second chance month”, Biden said in a White House statement:
America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities. Biden is hoping today’s measures will resonate with the minority voters that Democrats will need to retain control of the House and Senate in November, but they fall far short of demands by criminal justice advocates for reduced sentences for non-violent drug crimes, and the release of those incarcerated for those offenses. Minorities, especially blacks, are incarcerated at a much higher rate than the white population. The Biden package includes a $145m job training program in federal prisons and a another $140m for a grant program helping inmates after their release. Biden said: Helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime. The three pardoned, Reuters reports, are Betty Jo Bogans, 51, who served a seven-year sentence stemming from a 1998 conviction for possessing crack cocaine for her boyfriend.
Dexter Jackson, 52, who was convicted in 2002 for letting marijuana distributors use his pool hall. Abraham Bolden, 86, the first Black member of a president’s Secret Service detail under President John F Kennedy, who served several years in prison for attempting to sell his Secret Service file. Those seeing their sentences reduced have already served almost 10 years in prison, on average, for nonviolent drug offenses and have shown a commitment to rehabilitation, the White House said. Read the White House fact sheet here.
Updated at 15.09 BST