Joe and Vlad's big chill
Vladimir Putin surely knew already that he no longer had an admirer in the White House, but the length of time it took for President Joe Biden to take his phone call provided further confirmation.
The Russian leader reached out last week, shortly after Biden took office, U.S. officials told The Associated Press. Biden chose to wait until after he spoke to European allies, including the leaders of Britain, France and Germany, who often got blindsided by former President Donald Trump's go-it-alone personal diplomacy with Putin. The Russians described the call as "businesslike and frank" — diplo-speak that would cover chilly and contentious.
Biden's "intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
The new U.S. president, in Tuesday's phone call, raised concerns about suspected Moscow-directed cyberespionage such as the SolarWinds hack and reports that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan, as well as the poisoning-assassination attempt last year and arrest last week of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Trump evinced scant interest in Russian human rights and openly doubted U.S. intelligence about the hack and the bounties. Most infamously, Trump suggested at a 2018 summit in Helsinki that he was more inclined to believe Putin's denials of Russian interference in the 2016 elections than the findings of multiple U.S. investigations.
Biden chastised Putin over the 2016 election interference and a reprise of that effort in 2020. Biden also told the Kremlin strongman that the United States was willing to defend itself and take action, which could include further sanctions, to ensure that Moscow does not act with impunity, according to Biden administration officials.
On a positive note, Biden and Putin agreed on the need to maintain stability between the world's two biggest nuclear superpowers. Specifically, both said they want an extension of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), a 2010 agreement that limits the size of the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals, before it expires on Feb. 5.
Impeach trial test vote tilts Trump's way
Only five of the 50 Republican senators joined Democrats in a test vote Tuesday on whether to go forward with Trump's impeachment trial on a charge of incitement of insurrection in the deadly U.S. Capitol riot.
While the proposal by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to declare such proceedings against Trump unconstitutional failed in a 45-55 vote — meaning the trial will go on — the tally showed how far Democrats appear to be from securing enough Republican votes for the two-thirds majority required for a guilty verdict.
What seemed for some Democrats like an open-and-shut case is running into a Republican Party that feels very differently since the Jan. 6 violence, writes The Associated Press. Not only are there legal concerns, but senators are wary of crossing the former president and his ardent followers.
The five Republicans who favored going ahead with the trial were Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey and Susan Collins, but Collins pointed to the math and said: "I think that it’s extraordinarily unlikely the president will be convicted." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who days earlier said the Capitol "mob was fed lies" and "provoked by the president [Trump] and other powerful people," was among the majority of GOP senators who voted alongside Paul.
Janison: Trump scheme years in making
When Trump gave up and left last week, his profile in subversion was complete, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
There weren't isolated plots. From his Ukraine scheming in 2019 to his last-gasp schemes to overturn the election, it was a single corrupt plan of action to make sure a legitimate victory by Biden or any other Democratic foe would be nullified either before or after the election. A clean contest was never on his agenda.
The question arises of how credible Republican officials will sound the next time they push for self-serving "reforms" such as voter IDs, mergers of polling places and purges of the voter rolls.
Pro-Trump peddlers of "fraud" tales have crippled their own credibility. Their "Stop the steal" slogan could have been more accurately recast as "Void any vote we don't like." The more powerful shouts for different kinds of reforms will come from their opponents.
Biden says he's righting racial wrongs
Biden on Tuesday signed a series of executive orders aimed at promoting racial equity — including bolstering fair-housing regulations canceled by Trump, who made them an election issue by claiming falsely that the Obama-era rules would "abolish the suburbs."
Referring to last year’s death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, a "turning point" that "opened the eyes of millions of Americans" to racial issues, Biden said "this is the time to act" on addressing inequities, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
One order calls for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to "redress historical racism in federal housing policies" by taking "necessary steps" to ensure all of the agency’s regulations uphold the 1968 Fair Housing Act. That restored a strengthening of the measures adopted under former President Barack Obama.
Other Tuesday orders from Biden banned the Department of Justice from awarding future contracts to private for-profit prison companies, condemned "inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric" targeting Asian Americans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and aimed to improve communication between federal agencies and American Indian tribal leaders.
More doses close, prez says
Biden announced new plans to ease COVID-19 vaccine shortages in the short term and the long run.
He said the U.S. is surging deliveries to hard-pressed states by 16% over the next three weeks. Supply issues have been so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments for people seeking their first shot. "This is unacceptable," Biden said. "Lives are at stake."
The president said the administration also is working to buy an additional 100 million doses each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna, to ensure the U.S. has enough vaccine for the long term. That would bring the total doses to 600 million, enough for 300 million people — nearly the entire U.S. population — by the end of summer or early fall.
Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve the single-dose candidate from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency-use authorization in the coming weeks.
Biden’s coronavirus response team held its first virus-related call with the nation’s governors on Tuesday and pledged to provide states with firm vaccine allocations three weeks ahead of delivery.
Capitol riot indictments near
The top federal prosecutor investigating the Capitol riot, the acting U.S. attorney of the District of Columbia, said on Tuesday he expects indictments as soon as this week.
More than 135 people have been arrested and the FBI has identified more than 400 suspects, according to the Justice Department.
"Regardless of the level of criminal conduct, we're not selectively targeting or just trying to charge the most significant crime," said acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin. "If a crime was committed, we are charging you, whether you were outside or inside the Capitol."
The FBI is investigating whether groups of people may have plotted in advance to storm the Capitol. Sherwin said he expects some will be facing seditious-conspiracy charges.
U.S. restores Palestinian relations
The Biden administration announced Tuesday it was restoring relations with the Palestinians and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees, a reversal of the Trump administration’s cutoff.
Acting UN Ambassador Richard Mills made the announcement of Biden’s approach to a high-level virtual UN Security Council meeting, saying the new U.S. administration believes this "remains the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state while upholding the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a state of their own and to live with dignity and security."
A peace plan unveiled by Trump a year ago envisioned a disjointed Palestinian state that would turn over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. Trump sided with Israel on contentious issues including the status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements. Palestinians swiftly rejected the Trump-brokered deal, which didn't consult them.
Mills made clear the Biden administration’s more evenhanded approach, seeking "a mutually agreed two-state solution, one in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- A federal judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order to stop the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key Biden immigration priority. The challenge was brought by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Trump ally who tried to get the Supreme Court to overturn the election results.
- The Senate on Tuesday voted 78-22 to confirm Antony Blinken as secretary of state, tasked with reversing Trump's "America First" doctrine that weakened international alliances. Biden's nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security cleared a Senate committee on a 7-4 vote.
- Biden's nominee for secretary of commerce, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, pledged during a Senate confirmation hearing to take a tough line on trade with China. "China’s actions have been anti-competitive, hurtful to American workers and businesses, coercive, and, as you point out, they’re culpable for atrocious human rights abuses," she said.
- Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in a study released Tuesday that schools operating in person have seen scant COVID-19 transmission, particularly when masks and distancing are employed. The study added that some indoor athletics have led to infections and should be curtailed.
- YouTube said Tuesday it suspended Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani from its program that gives partners a cut of ad revenue collected by the social media company for their videos after Giuliani broke the platform's rules by repeatedly sharing false election claims. The suspension will last at least 30 days.
- Police visited the Alpine, New Jersey, home of former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday, a day after her 16-year-old daughter, Claudia, complained on social media about a topless photo of the teen that briefly appeared on her mom’s Twitter account, the New York Post reported. After initially expressing alarm, Claudia said she believed her mom's account was hacked.