'America is back'
In his first major foreign policy speech as president, Joe Biden on Thursday detailed a sharp turn away from predecessor Donald Trump's promotion of "America First" at the expense of long-standing U.S. alliances and the promotion of human rights, reports Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
"The message I want the world to hear today: America is back," Biden said, speaking from the State Department headquarters. "Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy."
Biden announced the U.S. will suspend a Trump-led effort to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, where they have been stationed since the end of World War II as a counterweight to the Kremlin's ambitions. He added the U.S. will no longer support Saudi-backed military operations in Yemen, where the oil-rich kingdom's intervention in a civil conflict has meant humanitarian disaster.
Biden called U.S. democratic values "the grounding wire of our global power" and emphasized his desire to rebuild "the muscles of democratic alliances that have atrophied from four years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse," a thinly veiled reference to Trump.
Biden warned Russia that there will be a "cost" to its malign activities worldwide. "I made clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions — interfering with our election, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens — are over," Biden said. "We will not hesitate to raise the cost to Russia and defend our vital interests."
Biden called China "our most serious competitor" and vowed to "confront China’s economic abuses" — though he said the U.S. stands ready "to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so." He said the U.S. will confront Beijing over "coercive actions" and its "attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance."
Biden also said he will sign a presidential memorandum aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals around the globe. (See a transcript and a video of the full speech.)
Trump won't be impeach trial witness
Trump and his lawyers swiftly turned down a request from the Democratic managers of his second Senate impeachment trial to testify under oath next week.
The letter to Trump from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) didn't require him to appear — though the Senate could later subpoena him — but it did warn that any refusal to testify could be used at trial to support arguments to convict the former president of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Raskin cites the words of Trump’s own attorneys, who in a legal brief earlier this week not only denied that Trump had incited the riot, but also asserted that he had "performed admirably in his role as president, at all times doing what he thought was in the best interests of the American people." With that argument, Raskin said, Trump had questioned critical facts in the case, "notwithstanding the clear and overwhelming evidence of your constitutional offense."
Hours after the letter was released, Trump adviser Jason Miller said the former president "will not testify" in what he described as an "unconstitutional proceeding." Trump’s lawyers Bruce Castor and David Schoen dismissed the request as a "public relations stunt."
Unanimous House Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, voted Thursday to boot freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia from her committee assignments for her conspiracy theory-based record of hateful and violent commentary in recent years.
Democrats took the step after Republicans refused to take disciplinary measures. "If anybody starts threatening the lives of members of Congress on the Democratic side, we’d be the first to eliminate them from committees. They [Republicans] had the opportunity to do so," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose execution has been on Greene's wish list in prolific social media commentary and videos from 2017 through 2019.
Speaking to the House before the vote, Greene walked back past doubts that school shootings and the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon were real. She did not address her anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim comments nor her advocacy for the death of assorted Democrats.
Greene misleadingly claimed she had left her most extreme comments and sympathy with the QAnon conspiracy cult behind when she ran for Congress in 2020. In reality, she praised QAnon as recently as August for its "patriotic sentiment" and in December called the conspiracy cult an "objective flow of information" that's "uniting Christians."
The vote to remove Greene from two committees — Education and Labor, as well as Budget — was 230-199. Long Island's two Republicans, Lee Zeldin and Andrew Garbarino, stood with the bulk of their party in opposing the punishment. Eleven Republicans supported the Democrats' resolution, including three from New York State: Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island, John Katko of Camillus (near Syracuse) and Chris Jacobs of Orchard Park (near Buffalo).
Janison: The stories Pence could tell
Former Vice President Mike Pence has returned to his native Indiana and signed up as a visiting fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation. Newsday's Dan Janison wonders if Pence's future will include stepping forward as a witness to history, including how and why the violent events of Jan. 6 unfolded as they did.
Remember a few weeks after the 2016 election, how the cast of "Hamilton" confronted Pence in its Broadway audience about Trump's attitudes on race? Since then, Pence has earned, if nothing else, the ability to say he was in the room when some very strange things happened.
Pence could tell us if his most surprising moment came when fans of a president to whom he catered for four years threatened his life during the insurrection. Or maybe it was the meeting during which Trump reportedly cursed at him for refusing to illegally nullify the votes of the people. Pence did his constitutional duty in defiance of Trump but has yet to talk back.
Pence’s experience as vice president must have been like no other. Only he can answer for the Trump stunts that he did go along with. But by the end, he bested Trump's low standard of public conduct by a wide measure. Candid talk from him would carry credibility.
Biden-Schumer divide on student loans
Biden isn't on the same page as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and prominent progressive Democrats in Congress on student loan debt.
Schumer is pushing a nonbinding resolution calling on Biden to take executive action to wipe out up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all borrowers and to ensure there is zero tax liability on the forgiven amounts. New York's senior senator was joined at a news conference by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Mondaire Jones (D-Nyack) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
They also want the Biden administration to suspend student loan payments and interest for the duration of the pandemic; they contend the secretary of education has broad administrative authority to cancel the debt.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden won't try to do all that on his own. She told reporters Thursday that while "the president has and continues to support canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person as a response to the COVID crisis," any further action would need to come from Congress.
False claims, big money
A voting technology company, Smartmatic USA, is suing Fox News, three of its hosts and two lawyers who pressed Trump's election claims — Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell — for $2.7 billion, charging that the defendants conspired to spread false claims that the company helped "steal" the U.S. presidential election.
The 285-page complaint filed Thursday in New York by Florida-based Smartmatic USA is one of the largest libel suits ever undertaken, The Associated Press reported. On Jan. 25, a rival election-technology company — Dominion Voting Systems, which also was ensnared in Trump’s baseless effort to overturn the election — sued Giuliani and Powell for $1.3 billion.
Unlike Dominion, whose technology was used in 24 states, Smartmatic’s participation in the 2020 election was restricted to Los Angeles County in deep-blue California. Its limited role notwithstanding, Fox aired at least 13 reports falsely stating or implying the company had stolen the 2020 vote in cahoots with Venezuela’s socialist government, according to the complaint.
The result was death threats against company personnel and, with several client contracts in jeopardy, a loss in potential revenue of as much as $690 million over the next five years, the lawsuit said. The Fox hosts named as defendants are Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro.
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:
- Trump has resigned from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists after union leaders voted to consider expelling him over his role in inciting the Capitol assault. "Who cares!" wrote Trump. But rather than stop there, he bragged about his bit parts in films such as "Home Alone 2" and "Zoolander" and his years hosting "The Apprentice." In response to Trump’s resignation, the union issued a concise statement: "Thank you."
- Biden is stepping up his personal involvement in the push for his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus package, urging Democrats to move quickly, Politico reports.
- Biden scored 57% approval in the first Gallup Poll of his presidency. There was 37% disapproval.
- Hunter Biden, the president's son, has a memoir coming out April 6, "Beautiful Things," that will center on his struggles with substance abuse. The president and first lady released a statement Thursday, saying, "We admire our son Hunter’s strength and courage to talk openly about his addiction so that others might see themselves in his journey and find hope."
- A Quinnipiac poll found 50% of Americans favor Trump's conviction in his second Senate impeachment trial while 45% oppose it.