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Minnesota governor calls alleged assaults on journalists ‘chilling’

Tim Walz, Governor of Minnesota, responded on Sunday to reports that state police had assaulted reporters covering unrest in a suburb of Minneapolis, saying, “Apologies are not enough; it just can’t happen.

Protests erupted in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota over the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man who was killed by a veteran police officer during a traffic stop. The police fired tear gas or pepper spray at the crowd and made dozens of arrests.

“I think we all have to recognize the attacks on media around the world and even in our country over the past few years is frightening,” Mr. Walz said in an interview with a local CBS station. “We cannot function as a democracy if they are not there.”

On Saturday, an attorney representing more than 20 news outlets sent a letter to Mr. Walz and law enforcement officials in Minnesota detailing a series of alleged assaults on journalists by police over the past week. Journalists have been sprayed with chemical irritants, arrested, thrown to the ground and beaten by police while covering protests, lawyer Leita Walker wrote.

The letter provides details of some of the alleged incidents, including those involving reporters working for CNN and the New York Times.

Joshua Rashaad McFadden, a freelance photographer who covered the protests for The Times, said in an interview on Sunday that police surrounded the car he was in on Tuesday as he tried to leave the protests. They hit the windows with batons, then entered the car to force him out, beating his legs and hitting the lens of his camera, he said.

“It was really scary – I’ve never been in a situation like this with so many cops hitting me, hitting my gear,” said McFadden, 30.

Mr McFadden, who is black, said police did not believe his press credentials were real until another photographer vouched for him – a situation that has happened to him on several occasions, as well as ‘to other black journalists, he said.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” he said, to know that “if a situation like this happens, they won’t believe or care about everything I say.

Later that week, he said, he was forced to the ground with other reporters and photographed by police.

A spokeswoman for The New York Times Company confirmed on Sunday that Ms Walker’s letter represented the company’s response.

On Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting police from using physical force or chemical agents against journalists. But Ms Walker wrote that the officers still engaged in “acts of intimidation, violence and other widespread misconduct against journalists”.

Mr Walz said in a tweet on Saturday that he had “ordered our law enforcement partners to make changes that will help ensure journalists do not encounter obstacles in doing their jobs.”

“These are unstable situations and that is no excuse,” he said in Sunday’s television interview. “It’s an understanding that we need to keep improving.”

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Video: Chicago mayor calls for calm as police shoot video released

new video loaded: Chicago mayor calls for calm as police filming video released

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Chicago mayor calls for calm as police shoot video released

In a press conference Thursday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said officials would release video of the fatal shooting of a police officer last month on 13-year-old Adam Toledo.

In the wee hours of Monday, March 29, in Little Village, a Chicago police officer shot and killed a 13-year-old boy who we now know to be Adam Toledo. The body camera and pod camera as well as other video and audio footage that captured the events leading up to and including the filming will be made public. Two facts about this tragedy remain clear. First, in the middle of the night, this child came into contact with an adult who had a gun, and then ended up being shot by a police officer. We live in a city traumatized by a long history of violence and police misconduct. So while we don’t have enough information to be the judge and jury in this particular situation, it’s certainly understandable that so many of our residents feel an all-too-familiar wave of indignation and pain. And it is even clearer that the trust between our communities and the police is far from being cured and remains seriously shattered. This lack of confidence makes it even more difficult for many of us to wait and hear all of the facts before speaking out on tragedies about it. But again, I urge – I urge every resident who cares and loves this city, let’s wait until we hear all the facts.

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Video: Michigan governor calls for caution as virus cases increase

new video loaded: Michigan governor calls for caution as virus cases rise

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Michigan governor calls for caution as virus cases rise

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on residents of the state to exercise caution and practice enforcing social distancing measures as cases of the coronavirus spread statewide.

Anyone looking at a Covid map knows that Michigan is unmistakably a national hotspot, right now. My team and I have had regular conversations with the National Covid Team, and we have asked for more vaccines. But as we carefully examine the data and observe the spread of variants, we all need to go beyond the rules we already have in place. We all need to step up our game over the next two weeks to reduce the rise in cases. And that’s why I’m calling on high schools to voluntarily step away for two weeks after spring break. Call on youth sports to voluntarily suspend matches and training for two weeks. And I strongly encourage all Michiganders to avoid eating inside and to avoid hanging out with friends inside for two weeks. This is my request to you Michigan people. Please redouble our efforts on these fronts over the coming weeks. I know the Michiganders are concerned about the latest increase in cases, and so am I. We have come so far, we have sacrificed so much. It has changed every aspect of our lives for over a year. We can’t let go now, not when we’re so close.

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Buttigieg calls on Congress for ‘generational investment’ in infrastructure

“The freight bill, I think, has to be a freight bill, not a Green New Deal,” said Representative Sam Graves of Missouri, the senior Republican on the committee. “It has to be about roads and bridges, and I hope that as this committee works on our next major bill, we will remember to put transportation infrastructure first.

It’s still unclear whether the top Democrats, with small majorities in both chambers and controlling the White House, will be willing to scale back their ambitions to keep Republicans happy. They refused to rule out the use of a fast-track budget process, known as reconciliation, to bypass Republican opposition and the 60-vote Senate obstruction threshold to advance M’s infrastructure initiatives. Biden on strictly partisan votes.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, President Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats would pursue a bipartisan legislative package but would have to “pass judgment” on how to achieve more ambitious goals related to fighting change climate and economic inequalities that Republicans might not support.

“One of the challenges we face is that we can’t just settle for what we can agree on without recognizing that this has to be a bill for the future,” she said. Among the specific proposals she said she preferred was the electrification of the US Postal Service fleet.

Pressed repeatedly by Republicans for a compromise pledge, Buttigieg assured lawmakers that “the president strongly prefers a bipartisan approach, and so do I.” and observed that he had “not seen a bridge yet. Republican or a Democratic pothole ”.

This support, however, will most likely depend on both the scope of the Democrats’ proposed package and the payment mechanisms of the legislation. In addition to passing the dozen annual spending bills needed to maintain government funding in 2020, Congress approved more than $ 3 trillion in emergency spending to address the economic and health toll of the pandemic. .

At the start of the hearing, Republican lawmakers questioned Mr. Buttigieg about how the administration plans to pay for such a large spending bill, while raising concerns about the even distribution of funds across the country. . Rep. Don Young, Republican from Alaska, asked Mr. Buttigieg if the Biden administration had a strategy to pay more than $ 1 trillion in expenses.

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Biden calls for assault weapons ban, background check

WASHINGTON – In the face of the second mass shooting in a week, President Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill on Tuesday called for swift action to enact stricter gun laws, a plea that was immediately greeted by a blockade of the opposition by the Republicans.

In short, grim White House remarks, Biden called on the Senate to ban assault weapons and fill in background checks, saying it would be “common sense measures that will save lives. in the future”.

His demand for action was the latest in what has become a sad ritual in Washington: re-calling for gun safety legislation after a deadly shooting, this one at a Colorado grocery store where 10 people, including a policeman, were killed on Monday. .

“It is not and should not be a partisan issue – it is an American issue,” Biden said. “We must act.”

But while polls routinely show broad support for stricter gun laws and specific policies such as a ban on assault weapons, Republicans in Congress remained virtually unwavering on the issue, repeating on Tuesday. long-standing arguments that gun violence should be tackled with measures such as more policing rather than repression. limit gun rights.

“There isn’t a great appetite among our members to do things that seem to fix it, but actually do nothing to fix the problem,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 2 Republican of the Senate.

President Barack Obama was unable to push through stricter gun laws even after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead. Since then, there has been little progress at the federal level, even as the epidemic of gun violence rages on.

On Tuesday, Biden noted he had to draft a proclamation to keep the White House flags at mid-strength because they had already been lowered to honor eight people killed by a gunman in the Atlanta area less than a week earlier.

“Another American city has been marked by gun violence and the resulting trauma,” the president said.

As a senator, Mr. Biden was a prominent supporter of the original ban on assault weapons in 1994, which expired a decade later and has never been renewed. Since then, Mr Biden has been embroiled in other gun control proposals that have gone nowhere to Congress, and he has been described by assistants as realistic about the difficulty of passing meaningful legislation this this time.

Asked by a reporter if he had the political capital to move forward with gun security measures, the president expressed his uncertainty. “I hope so,” he said, crossing his fingers. “I don’t know. I haven’t counted yet.”

Supporters of tougher gun laws have said they hope the latest shootings will push the Biden administration into action.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that passing gun safety legislation is an unfinished business for Biden,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization Gun Violence Prevention Committee, noting Mr. Biden’s record on the issue in the Senate. and the role he played in shaping the Obama administration’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre.

“It’s understandable that the fight against the pandemic came first,” Mr. Feinblatt said, “but in the face of rising crime rates and two mass shootings in less than a week, the Biden administration must now rule as if she were the strongest in history. gun safety. “

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers quickly broke along partisan lines.

Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal, a frank voice on gun control, said Congress’ inaction had made lawmakers “complicit” in allowing “completely predictable” violence to go unchecked. He issued a note of optimism, citing Mr Biden’s personal commitment to the issue.

“This time it’s different,” Blumenthal said Tuesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “The dawn of a new era, with a president fully committed to the prevention of armed violence. I know from having heard him in private and in public that he shares this passion. The same is true of majorities now – in the House and the Senate.

House Democrats passed two bills this month to expand and strengthen background checks for gun buyers by applying them to all gun buyers and extending the time disposes the FBI to examine those reported by the National Instant Verification System.

New York Democrat and majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer on Tuesday promised to put the bills to a vote in the Senate, and Mr Biden urged their passage while calling for a new ban on assault weapons. The shooter in the Colorado shooting was armed with both a military-style semi-automatic rifle and a pistol.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said he was “open to discussing” gun control measures, but opposed the two bills passed by the House.

“What doesn’t appeal to me is something that doesn’t work, and there have been deep philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats on how to deal with gun violence,” he said. he declares.

Even before the recent shootings, Democrats had begun to push for more stringent gun control measures that faced a long 50-50 Senate chance. But even with unified Democratic control, swift congressional action seems more elusive than never.

The two pieces of legislation passed in the House were deemed ineffective and too bulky by most Republicans; only eight House Republicans voted to advance universal background check legislation. The bills would almost certainly not get the 60 votes needed to clear a Senate obstruction.

Aware of the challenges of passing new gun laws, White House officials said, Biden has, since taking office, lobbied what can be done to strengthen existing legislation. with presidential authority.

After the meteoric tragedy at Sandy Hook, Mr. Obama chose not to immediately move forward with legislation. Instead, he asked Mr. Biden, then vice-president, to put together a proposed package of measures.

Mr Biden, who had helped pass the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act as well as the 10-year Senate assault gun ban, returned five weeks later with proposals for legislation and executive action, but the Obama administration pushed to pass. a failed background check invoice.

“The failure to pass the legislation was one of Obama’s biggest regrets,” said Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group.

Mr Biden faces a political deadlock on the issue despite long-standing public support for tougher gun laws, growing calls to action from many Democrats and waning influence from the National Rifle Association.

Growing proportions of Americans on both sides support tougher gun laws, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center poll. There was also broad bipartisan support for some specific measures, including banning people with mental illness from buying firearms. About 71% of Americans – including a slight majority of Republicans – voted in favor of a ban on high-capacity ammunition stores, while 69%, including half of Republicans, supported a ban on assault weapons .

Mr Biden said on Tuesday it was wrong “to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense action that will save lives in the future.”

But the challenge for her administration will be determining how much political capital she is willing to spend on a politically intractable issue, given the other monumental crises she faces simultaneously.

“This tragedy happened last night, so I wouldn’t expect a new proposal to come forward within 24 hours,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force. One en route to Ohio, where the president has promoted his $ 1.9 trillion. pandemic relief package. While the administration issued more than 30 decrees in its first few weeks, none addressed gun violence.

So far, Susan Rice, the director of the Home Policy Council, and Cedric Richmond, the director of the public engagement office, have overseen the administration’s planned executive actions on firearms, as well as plans to provide more funding for gun violence prevention. .

One executive measure being considered is to classify “phantom weapons,” which are kits that allow a buyer to assemble a fully functional long gun or handgun, as firearms. Such a classification would require that they be serialized and subjected to a background check.

Gun violence prevention groups are also pushing the administration to define what it means to be “in the business” of selling weapons. Under the current law, people who “deal” with selling firearms are required to do a background check, but that does not define what that means.

The administration is also working to fulfill Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge of an eight-year, $ 900 million investment in community violence programs, officials said.

The limited prospects of passing even modest gun legislation this year were on display on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III has a long-standing bipartisan proposal – written with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Patrick J. Toomey – to fill the legal loopholes that allow people who buy guns during gun shows or the Internet avoid background checks.

But the bill failed to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. And Mr Manchin – who, as a moderate in a deeply conservative state, is often in a position to decide whether Democrats can move their agenda forward in an evenly divided chamber – also opposes dismantling the legislative obstruction that requires most laws to get 60 votes.

Mr Manchin said he was interested in reviving the Manchin-Toomey legislation, but opposed the House’s universal background check bill, citing its provision requiring checks for sales between individuals. Separately, Mr. Toomey told reporters he believed further changes would be needed to his legislation with Mr. Manchin.

“I want to find something that can pass,” Mr. Toomey told reporters. “It would probably require something a little different. We have to see if we can figure out how to thread that needle. “

Glenn thrush contribution to reports.

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Church of suspect calls Spa attacks ‘result of a sinful heart’

The Southern Baptist Church which counted the suspect in a series of fatal spa shootings as an active member said on Friday that the attacks were “the result of a sinful heart and a depraved mind” and that she had started the process of removing him from her limbs. .

“We want to be clear that this extreme and evil act is nothing less than a rebellion against our holy God and his Word,” said the statement from Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia. He added, “The shootings were a complete repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel.”

The suspect, Robert Aaron Long, was charged this week with eight counts of murder in the attacks on three massage parlors in and around Atlanta. A former roommate described a “religious mania” that marked Mr. Long’s life in the years leading up to the shooting. And police said Mr. Long, 21, told them he was sexually addicted and that the shootings were an attempt to eliminate temptation.

Crabapple strictly forbids sex outside of marriage, and Mr. Long had previously checked into a Christian rehabilitation clinic to fight what he perceived to be addictive.

The church said it is cooperating with law enforcement and deeply regrets “the fear and pain that Asian Americans feel as a result of Aaron’s inexcusable actions.” Among the eight victims of the shooting were six women of Asian descent.

The church’s statement came on Friday amid several developments in the case, including the official identification of the four women who were killed in two Atlanta spas. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta, and community members held a vigil in memory of the shooting victims.

Recently revealed police records also showed that between 2011 and 2014, officers in Atlanta arrested at least 11 people and charged them with prostitution-related offenses at one of those companies.

The arrests for prostitution were made after massage therapists at the company Gold Spa in northeast Atlanta offered to perform sex acts on undercover officers for money, records show from the police department. Officers were tracking anonymous information, the department said.

The records, provided in response to a request from the New York Times, contradict what Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a press conference this week: “As far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally active companies that weren’t on our radar, not on APD’s radar ”

Elise M. Durham, spokesperson for the mayor, who took office in 2018, pointed out that the mayor’s comment came just a day after the murders. “As far as we know” is the operative part of this sentence. Obviously it was less than 24 hours after the incident, ”Ms. Durham said. “The most recent incident that we are aware of dates back to 2014, which obviously predates this administration by several years. As the investigation continues, we continue to find new information. “

Outside Gold Spa on Friday, a bunch of commemorative flowers grew hour by hour as people came to pray and stand on the sidewalk in solidarity. Students at Emory University held cardboard signs denouncing racism. A dozen middle-aged business leaders came for a brief vigil.

And then there was Chenmua Yang, 27, who couldn’t shake the sight of the thick rust-red splashes covering the shades of the spa windows as he stood outside the crime scene. He thought about how his mother was now too scared to do grocery shopping on her own, and the frightening moment a few months ago when a white man deliberately hit Mr. Yang and told him to return to his country.

“To look at this, it’s hard to put into words,” said Mr. Yang, a graduate student who moved from Wisconsin to Atlanta six months earlier. “It shows how far we have to go.”

As the community mourned the victims of the shooting, new details emerged about the arrest of Mr. Long, who was apprehended Tuesday night on a highway in Crisp County, about 150 miles south of Atlanta. According to a police report, he asked authorities if he was going to spend “the rest of his life” in prison.

Deputy Tara Herrick of the Crisp County Sheriff’s Office wrote that Mr. Long’s comments were captured on an officer’s body camera. He had been taken into custody after a Georgia State Patrol officer struck his car, forcing it to turn sideways and stop.

Authorities said Mr. Long told them he was traveling to Florida to further violence at a company related to the porn industry.

The attacks on spas have fueled a furious outcry over escalating anti-Asian violence and rhetoric. Anger was also directed at a Cherokee County sheriff’s deputy – who was the agency’s spokesperson for the investigation – for saying Mr. Long had “a very bad day” before the shooting, and for the anti-Asian Facebook posts he posted last year. .

Deputy Captain Jay Baker is no longer speaking on behalf of the sheriff’s office in the shooting, according to a county spokeswoman. Spokeswoman Erika Neldner said in a text message on Thursday that she would take over communications duties in the case.

Neil Vigdor and Johnny diaz contribution to reports.

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Biden calls for update for very stretched law that allows war on terror

WASHINGTON – President Biden wants to work with Congress to repeal and replace a war authorization law passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, White House officials said on Friday. This law was extended to four administrations to allow unlimited combat against militant Islamist groups scattered around the world.

The Biden administration has pledged to work with Congress “to ensure that current authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure that we can protect Americans from threats. terrorists while putting an end to eternal wars ”. Mr. Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

But his statement stopped before approving a particular proposal on how to revise the 2001 law, known as the Use of Military Force Authorization, or AUMF.

Congress has struggled for years to reach consensus on this issue.

The wording and intent of the 2001 law has become increasingly detached from how the US government uses it. The law authorized war against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them – essentially, original Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts.

But as the campaign against terrorism evolved, the executive branch under the administrations of both sides broadened its interpretation to justify fighting other terrorist groups far from Afghanistan – such as a Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Shabab in Somalia. .

By asserting that it already has the authority of Congress to fight such enemies, the executive branch avoided problems with the War Powers Resolution – a Vietnam-era law that demands an end to hostilities after 60 days without Congress permission – while a blocked and polarized Congress avoided having to vote hard.

But many critics, including many lawmakers from both parties, say they believe the authorization has been extended far beyond its intended purpose, usurping the role of Congress under the Constitution in deciding when the country will enter. in war. Yet lawmakers were unable to agree on how to update it.

One faction refuses to write a new blank check extending the “war forever”. He is drawn to ideas to impose more stringent restrictions, such as automatically expiring the law after a certain period of time, restricting levels of ground forces, and limiting the ability of the executive to view new enemies as enemies. associated forces of Al Qaeda and treat them as part of the existing war. .

Another faction, however, warning that Islamist terrorism remains a major threat to national security, refused to shield the government’s current authority from the use of military force in combating Qaeda-linked groups. The deadlock led to compliance with the 2001 law.

Still, there are signs that politics may change. While some veteran Republicans who favored the overhaul of the AUMF have retired – such as former Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona – there are also many recently elected lawmakers, to the extreme. left and right in particular, who share the view that Congress must regain its role in war decisions.

In the midst of the flow, Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, has been a constant force in pushing for the revisions of war authorizations. In Ms Psaki’s statement, which was reported earlier by Politico, the White House also named Mr Kaine on Friday as a lawmaker she wanted to work with to try to sort out the entanglement.

A spokeswoman for Mr Kaine, citing Mr Biden’s deep experience in the legislative and executive branches, said the senator hoped the new president could help restore the balance of power in war. “We must protect the country but not be at perpetual war,” she said. “And he is already in bipartisan discussions with his colleagues and the administration on how to proceed.”

This week, Mr. Kaine and several colleagues from both parties introduced a bill that would repeal two other aging war laws that are still in effect: one from 1991 that authorized the Persian Gulf war on Iraq, and one of 2002 which authorized the second. Iraq war. In previous sessions it has also sponsored legislation that would address the more difficult question of how to repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF, but so far it has not reintroduced it.

While the 1991 Gulf War Act is obsolete, the 2002 Iraq War Act remains relevant. In 2014, after the Islamic State swept parts of Iraq and Syria and the Obama administration began bombing it, President Barack Obama called on Congress for a law to allow war, while insisting on the fact that he did not need further legislative approval.

The Obama administration’s reasoning cited the war laws of 2001 and 2002 as providing a pre-existing legal basis for attacking ISIS, which had evolved from a Qaeda affiliate that had participated in the Islamic State insurgency. war in Iraq. The claim was contested, but an attempt to get a court to examine its legitimacy failed.

Congressional efforts to specifically authorize ISIS warfare have also failed. At that time, some Republicans criticized Mr. Obama’s strategy as insufficiently hawkish, but resisted granting him the authority he requested. Some Democrats, still dissatisfied with the 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq, preferred to grant only limited authority for an air war. In the end, Congress did nothing, effectively accepting the theory that the war already had a legal basis.

Under President Donald J. Trump, new alarms have emerged over signs his team may be playing with the idea that they may start a war with Iran by citing old laws rather than going to Congress for a new specific authorization.

Then, in January 2020, Mr. Trump ordered an airstrike in Iraq that killed Major General Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s main military and intelligence chief, pushing the United States and Iran to the brink of war. Describing the mission as self-defense of troops in Iraq, the Trump administration claimed that the strike was based in part on the 2002 Iraq War Act, citing the Obama team’s arguments that it conferred on the Congress has the power to deploy troops to Iraq for the ISIS conflict.

Many lawmakers disagreed that the 2002 AUMF covered up the murder of General Suleimani. Congress passed a measure sponsored by Mr. Kaine under the War Powers Resolution declaring the strike not covered by either the 2001 or 2002 war laws and prohibiting a further escalation of hostilities with the Iran without any new and specific authorization. (Mr. Trump vetoed it.)

A similar problem arose last month when the Biden administration shelled Iranian-backed militias in Syria that it said were responsible for the recent attacks on US troops across the Iraqi border. . However, Mr Biden did not claim he had permission from Congress to conduct strikes like this. Rather, in a letter to Congress, he cited only his constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief as providing a national legal basis for the strike.

Jennifer steinhauer contribution to reports.

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Impacting Travel

Travel Industry Calls on Congress to Provide More Assistance to Travel Agents

A group of 25 travel companies sent a letter to federal legislators representing Florida in Washington DC asking for immediate relief for the travel agency industry.

Suggestions from the travel agency, consortia, host agency, franchise organization, and cruise line executives are in line with the assistance plans established by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

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Part of the letter focuses on US government grants and loans for travel agencies, as well as possible actions to mitigate the impact of Canada’s port closures on the Alaska cruise season.

ASTA data showed that average travel agency business revenue declined 82 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Even with the government’s economic relief, the average travel agency has laid off about 60 percent of its personal.

Executives are calling on the government to take responsibility for the impact expanded travel restrictions have on agencies and their employees. The group believes that “financial support for the travel industry has been uneven so far, especially with respect to less visible sectors of the industry such as travel agencies.”

The letter reminds representatives that 98 percent of U.S. travel agencies are small businesses by Small Business Administration (SBA) size standards, and about 66 percent are owned by women and men. they are operated by them. Continued losses could force more agencies to close forever.

Here are the priorities officials are asking government representatives to consider in any upcoming COVID-19 relief and recovery legislation:

—Create a $ 9.3 billion travel agency grant program similar to those created by the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2021 (PL 116-159) for performing arts venues, cinemas and museums ($ 15 billion) and operators of buses, ferries and private school buses ($ 2 billion). This amount represents the projected revenue loss from Q2 to Q4 2021 based on a comprehensive survey of more than 1,500 ASTA members conducted on January 28-29, 2021, and is almost certainly conservative.

—Expand eligibility in the Enclosed Venue Operator Grant Program (listed above) to include attractions, meeting and event organizers, and travel agencies that promote, plan and book trips to those attractions and events. Such an expansion would be similar in spirit to the original indoor venue program, which includes not only venue operators, but promoters, producers, and talent representatives as well.

—Include the NAICS Code 5615 (Travel organization and reservation services) in the provision of the Continuous Assignments Act that allows certain companies to receive a PPP loan of 3.5 times their average monthly payroll compared to 2.5 times for others applicants.

—Support any and all efforts to mitigate the impact of the Canadian government’s decision to suspend cruise operations in Canadian waters until February 2022 and ensure that the cruise industry in Alaska can resume operations as soon as possible.

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Biden calls on states to end ‘Neanderthal thinking’ mask mandates

HOUSTON – President Biden sharply criticized decisions by the governors of Texas and Mississippi to lift statewide mask mandates on Wednesday, calling the plans a “big mistake” reflecting “Neanderthal thinking,” as his administration is trying to manage the pandemic while state leaders set their own plans.

The president said it was essential for public officials to follow the advice of doctors and public health officials as the coronavirus vaccination campaign gains momentum.

“The last thing we need is for Neanderthals to think that until then it’s all right, take off your mask and forget about it,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “It is essential, critical, critical, critical that they follow science.”

“Wear a mask and stay socially distanced,” he added. “And I know you all know it. I would have liked some of our elected officials to know that.

The sudden announcement Tuesday by Governor Greg Abbott of Texas that he would lift a statewide mask requirement and allow all businesses to operate at full capacity was a surprising development in a state where vaccinations are Significantly below the national average, more than 7,000 new cases are reported a day, and in recent weeks worrying variants of the virus have emerged.

The move by Mr Abbott, a Republican, frustrated public health experts and various city officials, two weeks after a major winter storm collapsed the state’s electricity grid and left millions of Texans without power nor water, which could fuel the spread of the disease. .

Yet the move has been welcomed by some Texans, especially those whose livelihoods and businesses have suffered over the past year. “I’m proud to be Texan and this is the first step in bringing Texas back,” said Amber Rodriguez, 32, owner of an air conditioning business in Houston.

Kendall Czech, 26, a leasing agent who moved to Dallas last summer from California in part because of that state’s strict Covid-19 restrictions, agreed. “I think the governor has just gained courage.”

But for many other Texans, the announcement, billed as a long-awaited relief after a grueling period of isolation and hardship, was anything but reassuring for a state that has recorded more than 44,000 deaths and nearly 2.7 million people. case. If anything, some said, it would only prolong the misery.

Sylvester Turner, the mayor of Houston, called the announcement a “dangerous” attempt to “turn away from the state’s failure” in dealing with the storm. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the announcement a “huge mistake.” Dr Victor Treviño, the health authority in Laredo, said he was concerned the decision “wipes out all the gains we have made”.

“We know from science that masks work and social distancing works,” said Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Dallas, who believed the upheaval from the winter storm, the arrival of new strains of the virus and the governor’s planned reopening, which takes effect on March 10, would further delay any return to normal. “We have a lot of things against us right now.”

Since the pandemic began about a year ago, states have not taken a unified approach to the coronavirus. Even within states, restrictions vary widely from county to county. At the time of Mr Abbott’s announcement, 12 other states did not have a statewide mask mandate – a number that rose to 13 when the mandate ended in Mississippi on Wednesday night . South Dakota never had one.

But the decision to reopen Texas, with its 29 million people, comes at a delicate time in the coronavirus punishment season, as public health officials implore people not to let impatience exceed caution. . As vaccinations roll out steadily across the country and the worst of the pandemic appears to have an end date, advice from health experts and federal health officials has been consistent: Keep your guard a little longer .

“Now is not the time to lift all restrictions,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a White House briefing Wednesday.

Federal officials have urged people to continue to wear and double face masks. Dr Anthony S. Fauci, Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, has suggested masks may even be needed for another year. “When it goes down and the overwhelming majority of the population is vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable saying, ‘We have to take off the masks,'” he said in a recent interview on CNN. .

Neither measure was observed in Texas. While the tally of new virus cases and deaths has been largely disrupted by the recent storm, thousands of new cases have been reported every day and the death toll remains high. As of this week, 13% of Texans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, among the lowest rates in the country. And Houston recently became the first U.S. city to register five of the variants of Covid-19 circulating around the world.

“I don’t know what they are thinking,” said Ernestine Cain, 52, a caregiver who picked up a case of bottled water from a distribution site in San Antonio Wednesday morning. “You still have to give him time. You can’t just cut it like that.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the governor “absolutely” decided to reopen the state to distract residents from the sky-high electricity bills and credit card balances they faced after the storm.

“It gives people something to say other than the state’s failure to protect the power grid,” he said.

In a statement Tuesday, the governor defended his decision by saying, “We must now do more to restore the livelihoods and normalcy of Texans by opening up Texas 100%.” Make no mistake, Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, but it’s clear from recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices Texans are using that state warrants are no longer needed.

But that sense of optimism has been lost on local officials like Ricardo Samaniego, the El Paso County judge, where, according to a New York Times database, one in seven residents is known to have had the virus.

“We still have saturated mortuaries,” he said. “We still have bodies that have been there for two to three months.”

He said leaders of the state’s six largest counties agreed Mr Abbott’s decision was premature. But he said he saw no indication that their opinions were being solicited, which left him frustrated and dejected.

“We were doing so well,” he said. “We had worked so hard.”

It remains to be seen whether Mr Abbott’s move will trigger a wave of similar decisions by other governors keen to lift the restrictions. On the same afternoon as Mr. Abbott’s speech, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, also a Republican, announced he was lifting the statewide mask mandate and repealing corporate capacity limits over there.

“We continue to suggest that you do the right thing,” said Mr. Reeves, who like Mr. Abbott urged people to continue wearing masks despite the lifting of the state order. The precautions remain the same, Mr. Reeves said; the difference is that “the government no longer tells you what you can and cannot do”.

In a tweet Wednesday afternoonMr. Reeves acknowledged Mr. Biden’s “Neanderthal” comment and pushed back, “Mississippians don’t need managers. As the numbers drop, they can weigh their choices and listen to the experts. I guess I just think we should trust the Americans, not insult them.

As part of new orders in Texas and Mississippi, private companies may maintain mask requirements. Many appeared on Wednesday to do just that, with Target and Macy being among the biggest to say face coverings would remain mandatory in Texas stores. Masks will be optional for customers of HEB, a popular grocery store in Texas.

Under Mississippi’s order, cities and counties can still impose local mask warrants, while in Texas, a jurisdiction can only impose restrictions if Covid-19 hospitalizations exceed a certain level. And even then, people cannot be penalized by local governments for not wearing a mask.

Dr Mary Carol Miller, a doctor at Greenwood Leflore Hospital in the Mississippi Delta, said even a lightly applied statewide mask prescription was helpful, sending the message that the virus was still circulating and that masks were the best protection. Without that order, she saw weeks before other illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths in part of the country where the pandemic has already been devastating.

“The light is there at the end of the tunnel, and now we have lengthened the tunnel,” said Dr. Miller. “It’s silly. It is beyond madness.

In Texas, after a wave of challenges, from the brutal winter storm to widespread power outages to statewide water outages, some saw another factor at work in the reopening debate: the Politics.

“It’s pretty obvious to people paying attention that this is just about changing the subject of the infrastructure failures that we just saw,” said Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper, an El Pasoan now living in Dallas, echoing a common sentiment across the state.

But Ms Urenda-Culpepper, whose mother died of Covid-19 in July, acknowledged that the governor has the power to make such decisions, as frustrating and unnerving as they are. And given that, there was no choice but to hope for the best.

“I don’t want him to be wrong,” she said. “But obviously, for the greater good of people, I’m like, ‘Dude, you better be right and not cost us tens of thousands more.'”

Maria Jimenez Moya reported from Houston, Campbell Robertson from Pittsburgh, Erin Coulehan from El Paso and James dobbins of San Antonio. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas, Marina Trahan Martinez from Dallas and Ellen Ann Fentress by Jackson, Miss.

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