US ‘concerned’ Russia preparing for an invasion in Ukraine – as it happened

10 days ago

US ‘concerned’ Russia preparing for an invasion in Ukraine – as it happened

The Guardian

Politics recap

That’s it from us today.

Here’s what happened:

  • The White House warned Russia is preparing a false flag operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine. “We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
  • Joe Biden announced the federal government will pay 100% of the costs to repair small bridges in communities with limited funds to do so. The policy is part of the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which Biden signed in November. The law includes $27.5bn to repair the nation’s bridges.
  • Biden acknowledged this has been a disappointing few weeks for Democrats, after the party suffered defeats on a voting rights bill and the Build Back Better Act. “There’s a lot of talk about disappointments on things we haven’t gotten done,” Biden said. “We’re going to get a lot of them done, I might add.” His comments came one day after Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin indicated they would not support changing the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill, killing any hope of a swift passage for the legislation.
  • The Biden administration will start shipping free at-home Covid tests next week. Biden announced last month that his administration would order 500 m at-home tests to be given free of charge to Americans, and the president has since announced the purchase of an additional 500m tests.
  • The Ohio supreme court struck down the congressional map drawn by Republican legislators, which would have given the party a significant advantage in the midterm elections. Writing for the majority in his ruling, Justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat, argued the proposed map had violated the Ohio state constitution, which forbids district lines that unfairly favor one party or its incumbents.
  • Stewart Rhodes, the founder of far-right militia group the Oathkeepers pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy this afternoon after being arrested in Plano, TX on Thursday.
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were allegedly aware of and approved a deal to collaborate on the potential manipulation of advertising sales, according to newly unredacted documents that were filed as part of a state attorneys general-led lawsuit against Google.
  • More than 40 states have appealed a decision to throw out an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, arguing it’s in the public interest for the attorneys general to pursue the case. Judge James E Boasberg dismissed the lawsuit last June because it was filed too long after Facebook made the acquisitions that are in question in the complaint.

See you again next week!

Updated

Joe Biden has appointed actress Star Jones to serve on the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. The agency is in charge of identifying monuments, cemeteries, and historic buildings in Eastern and Central Europe that are associated with US heritage.

From Deadline’s story on the appointment: “Biden also appointed six others to the commission, including G Jonathan Greenwald, Nicole Mavis Isaac, Nancy Kaufman, Michael Marquardt, Maureen Pikarski and Bill Shaheen.

The commission was set up to ensure that such sites – historically important for populations impacted by Nazism and communism – are preserved.”

Jones is also scheduled to replace Faith Jenkins as the judge on the television show Divorce Court this fall.

Updated

States ask judge to reconsider antitrust case against Facebook

More than 40 states have appealed a judge’s decision to throw out an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, The New York Times is reporting.

Last June, Judge James E Boasberg dismissed the lawsuit because it was filed too long after Facebook made the acquisitions that are in question in the complaint.

In their appeal, the states attorneys generals, led by New York’s Letitia James, argue that they should have more latitude than private individuals when it comes to limitations on filing lawsuits. They also said it was in the public interest to pursue the case against the social media giant.

The lawsuit scrutinizes Facebook’s acquisition of photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The lawsuit alleges the acquisitions were predatory and were done in order to crush competition and that Facebook further worked to harm competitors, including video-sharing platform Vine, by cutting off their access to data and tools on Facebook’s platform.

Read more here.

Updated

DirecTV is dropping conservative news channel, One America News Network, according to Bloomberg News. The network is known for spreading misinformation and was one of Trump’s favorite channels during his presidency. DirecTV notified OANN owner Herring Networks Inc. that it would not carry the channel once the contract is up in early April, according to the Bloomberg report. It’s a major blow to OANN, oh which DirecTV is the largest distributor.

From the story: “The channel is still carried on Verizon FiOS and smaller pay-TV providers, according to its website. The broadcast can also be streamed via an online-TV service called KlowdTV. OANN has never been carried by Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. or Dish Network Corp., three other major providers.

DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T Inc. and TPG via a joint venture, has offered OANN to customers since April 2017 after Herring Networks won a lawsuit that forced the satellite-TV provider to carry the channels.”

You can read more here.

Updated

Lawsuit alleges Facebook and Google CEOs approved deal on ad manipulation

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were allegedly aware of and approved a deal to collaborate on the potential manipulation of advertising sales, according to newly unredacted documents that were filed as part of a state attorneys general-led lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit was first filed in December 2020 and claimed Google misled publishers and advertisers alike about the price and process of advertising auctions. At that time, many documents and parts of the lawsuit were redacted but have since become accessible to the public as a result of multiple court rulings.

While the lawsuit is not new, details about how much both companies’ C-Suite was aware of and whether they approved the coordination between Facebook and Google had not been known previously.

According to the AP, the lawsuit indicates that in a 2018 email thread Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, called the collaboration between the companies “ a big deal strategically”. Zuckerberg was included on that and other threads discussing the deal, the lawsuit says.

Both Google and Facebook have seen increased scrutiny over potentially monopolistic practices from both regulators and other players in the market. In this case, the lawsuit alleges Google maintained control over the advertising sales market - a market that it dominates - by inflating the price of advertisements for brands and suppressing competition from other advertising exchanges.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the complaint alleges “Google pocketed the difference between what it told publishers and advertisers that an ad cost and used the pool of money to manipulate future auctions to expand its digital monopoly.” The documents further cite internal messages in which Google employees said it was like they were using “insider information” to grow the business.

If Pichai is found to have personally approved the deal, he may be found to be complicit in the expansion of Google’s monopoly over the advertising market through manipulation. A Google spokesperson told the AP that while the deal was not a secret, it was inaccurate Pichai approved it.

“We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don’t require CEO approval, and this was no different,” the spokesperson said.

Updated

A Republican bill to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools in Virginia ran into ridicule when among historical events deemed suitable for study, it described a nonexistent debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Lincoln did engage in a series of historic debates hinged on the issue of slavery, in the Illinois Senate campaign of 1858. But he did so against Stephen Douglas, a senator who had ties to slavery, and not against Douglass, the great campaigner for the abolition of slavery who was once enslaved himself.

The Virginia bill was sponsored by Wren Williams, a freshman Republican sent to Richmond in a tumultuous November election.

History has become a divisive concept in states across the US, as rightwingers spread alarm about the teaching of race issues. In November, the winning candidate for governor in Virginia, the Republican Glenn Youngkin, made history a wedge issue in his win over the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe.

Youngkin seized upon critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society – but which is not taught in Virginia schools.

The elementary error in Williams’s bill attracted national attention, including from the Washington Post. However, reports that the bill had been withdrawn were in error, a spokesperson for the politician said on Friday.

The spokesperson also provided to the Guardian a statement from the Virginia division of legislative services, which said the error “was inserted at the drafting level, following receipt of a historically accurate request from the office of Delegate Wren Williams”.

Williams told Townhall.com he was “frustrated” but realised “mistakes happen”.

Nonetheless, many were happy to point out the error.

“New rule,” wrote Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor. “If you don’t know the difference between Frederick Douglass and Stephen Douglas, you don’t get to tell anyone else what to teach.”

Sidney Blumenthal, a Guardian contributor and Lincoln biographer, pointed out that Lincoln and Douglass did meet three times when Lincoln was president, from 1861 to 1865 and through a civil war that ended with slavery abolished.

Blumenthal also offered a way in which students in Virginia and elsewhere might use Douglass’s life and work to examine divisive concepts today.

Speaking after two centrist Democrats sank Joe Biden’s push for voting rights reform, Blumenthal said: “Frederick Douglass’s great cause became that of voting rights.

“If there is any debate that is going on now, it is not between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is between Frederick Douglass and all the Republican senators who refuse to support voting rights – and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema too.”

For further reading, here’s Ibram X Kendi on why Frederick Douglass matters:

Updated

An anti-abortion group that had an advertisement signed and endorsed by Amy Coney Barrett before she became a supreme court justice has been accused of encouraging the harassment of doctors, according to my colleague Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

Here’s more from her story:

An Indiana group whose anti-abortion campaign was endorsed in a signed advertisement by Amy Coney Barrett before she became a supreme court justice, keeps a published list of abortion providers and their place of work on its website, in what some experts say is an invitation to harass and intimidate the doctors and their staff.

In one case, court records show, a doctor whose name was published by the group, which is called Right to Life Michiana, was warned by the FBI of a kidnapping threat that had been made online against her daughter.

The threat prompted the doctor to temporarily stop providing abortion services at the Whole Woman’s Health Care clinic in South Bend, which is also named on the Michiana group’s website. The doctor said in the court document that the clinic regularly attracts large gatherings of protesters, who she feared could identify her.

Barrett signed a two-page advertisement in 2006, while she was working as a professor at Notre Dame, that stated that those who signed “oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death”. The second page of the ad called Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, “barbaric”.

The advertisement, which was published in the South Bend Tribune and signed by hundreds of people, was sponsored by a group called St Joseph County Right to Life, which merged with another anti-abortion group in 2020 and is now called Right to Life Michiana.

The supreme court is expected to rule this year on challenges to Roe v Wade that many court experts expect will gut the rights of women in the US to obtain legal abortions. In arguments before the court, Barrett – who has said her personal views do not affect her legal judgment – argued that passage of safe haven laws, which allow parents to relinquish their newborns at hospitals or other designated centers without the threat of legal consequences, had in effect given women options outside of abortion for those who did not want to become parents.

During her 2020 confirmation hearing, Barrett said she had signed the advertisement as a private citizen, while she was making her way out of church, and had not recalled signing it until it became public following a report in the Guardian.

“It was consistent with the views of my church,” she said, in response to senators’ questions about the statement. She later added: “I do see as distinct my personal, moral, religious views and my task of applying the law as a judge.”

Updated

Johana here, reporting in from San Francisco.

The founder of far-right militia group the Oathkeepers pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy this afternoon. Elmer Stewart Rhodes was arrested on Thursday in Texas and charged with conspiring with 10 others to oppose the transfer of presidential power by force.

As my colleague Sergio Olmos reported, unsealed court documents have revealed evidence of an armed plot as well as detailed tactical pre-planning that included “the creation of rapid-response teams of armed militia members, the deployment of tactical gear and the stockpiling of weapons”.

More from Sergio’s reporting:

The Oath Keepers even discussed a naval operation to ferry in guns to the militia. One Oath Keeper, Thomas Caldwell, asked fellow members if anyone had a boat that could handle crossing the Potomac River. “If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms,” the documents quoted him as saying.

Rhodes went on a buying spree in the days leading up to the attack, spending more than $20,000 on guns and equipment for the attack. In December, Rhodes bought two pairs of night-vision goggles and a weapons sight for about $7,000 and shipped them to Virginia. In January he spent another $5,000 on a shotgun, scope, magazine, sights, optics, a bipod, a mount, a case of ammunition and gun cleaning supplies. Two days later he spent $6,000 more, and then about $4,500 the next day.

In group chats, the Oath Keepers discussed how their quick reaction force (QRF) teams would set up at the Comfort Inn in Ballston Arlington, Virginia, to “use as its base of operations for January 6, 2021”. They reserved three rooms; one was occupied by the so-called North Carolina “QRF” team while Arizona and Florida “QRF teams” stayed in the two others. They used the hotel rooms to store firearms and ammunition.

Updated

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Johana Bhuiyan, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The White House warned Russia is preparing a false flag operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine. “We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
  • Joe Biden announced the federal government will pay 100% of the costs to repair small bridges in communities with limited funds to do so. The policy is part of the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which Biden signed in November. The law includes $27.5bn to repair the nation’s bridges.
  • Biden acknowledged this has been a disappointing few weeks for Democrats, after the party suffered defeats on a voting rights bill and the Build Back Better Act. “There’s a lot of talk about disappointments on things we haven’t gotten done,” Biden said. “We’re going to get a lot of them done, I might add.” His comments came one day after Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin indicated they would not support changing the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill, killing any hope of a swift passage for the legislation.
  • The Biden administration will start shipping free at-home Covid tests next week. Biden announced last month that his administration would order 500 m at-home tests to be given free of charge to Americans, and the president has since announced the purchase of an additional 500m tests.
  • The Ohio supreme court struck down the congressional map drawn by Republican legislators, which would have given the party a significant advantage in the midterm elections. Writing for the majority in his ruling, justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat, argued the proposed map had violated the Ohio state constitution, which forbids district lines that unfairly favor one party or its incumbents.

Johana will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated

Pence attacks Democrats' voting rights bill as 'federal power grab'

Mike Pence has penned a Washington Post op-ed attacking Democrats’ voting rights bill as a “federal power grab over our state elections”.

The former vice-president opened the op-ed by reflecting on the January 6 insurrection, which he witnessed firsthand. Pence was at the Capitol that day to preside over the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

“Now that the anniversary of Jan. 6 has come and gone, some of us who lived through that tragic day in 2021 are getting a clearer picture of what was and is at stake,” Pence writes.

“On Jan. 6, an angry mob ransacked the Capitol, largely to try to get Congress and me, as the president of the Senate, to use federal authority to overturn results of the presidential election that had been certified by all 50 states.”

But Pence then makes an argument that is certain to outrage Democrats; the Republican asserts that the dozens of voting restrictions recently approved by state legislatures are an effort to “restore confidence in the integrity of our elections while ensuring access to voting”.

“Despite this steady progress of state-based reforms, now come President Biden and Senate Democrats with plans to use the memory of Jan. 6 to attempt another federal power grab over our state elections and drive a wedge further into our divided nation,” Pence writes.

In 2021, 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Voting rights advocates warn that the restrictions disproportionately impact people of color, and experts say the laws threaten to inject partisan bias into election systems.

The Biden administration’s announcement on delivering free at-home Covid tests starting 19 January underscores the current difficulty of finding affordable at-home Covid-19 tests.

The Guardian’s Carly Olsen wrote about price gouging happening across the country for rapid at-home Covid tests:

With at-home Covid tests running scarce during the Omicron surge, the price gouging has begun, and everyone from restaurants to pet food stores appear to be trying to cash in.

Recent reporting by Vice found a Manhattan deli advertised an Abbott BinaxNOW rapid test (retail: $24) on the Seamless delivery app for $80. Meanwhile, an online-only pet store, Pet Foods by Village Farm, offered to deliver the same type of test for $50, and a liquor store was selling a “Covid fighter pack”, including rapid tests and hand sanitizer, for more than $100.

There have been reports across the country of vendors charging double or triple the normal costs of at-home Covid tests. One New York restaurant worker paid $180 for four test kits, the Los Angeles Times reported. And a Covid testing site in San Francisco’s Mission district is reportedly charging between $99 and $250 for rapid tests.

Authorities have warned that this is a growing problem. In a December statement, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, encouraged people to report price hikes. “Fraudsters are on notice that if they attempt to price gouge during this new surge, we will not hesitate to take action,” she said, adding that her office had already seen reports of test kits “being unlawfully sold for more than $40 and up to $70 per package”.

Read the full article here.

Updated

Biden administration will start shipping free at-home Covid tests next week

The Biden administration will begin shipping free at-home Covid tests starting next week, following an announcement earlier last week that the tests would become more widely available amid the Omicron surge.

The tests will be available through a government website starting on 19 January, though receiving the tests could take longer. Shipping for the at-home tests typically takes “seven to 12 days” according to senior official in the Biden administration. Additionally, households will only able to order four tests at a time.

Here’s more background on at-home test availability according to a piece from Politco:

A senior administration official told reporters the government has 420 million tests under contract and tens of millions already in its possession. Officials are finalizing contracts for the 80 million tests remaining out of an initial order of 500 million. The effort to procure and distribute the tests will have a total cost of about $4 billion.

Asked if the government can meet demand as soon as the website goes live, the senior administration official said the Biden administration is confident “that we can meet all of our timelines and get these to all Americans that want them.”

Read the full piece here.

Updated

Following the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision to strike the state’s new congressional districts on Friday, questions remain about what the next steps are for the legislative maps.

Here’s an article from Jessie Balmert of the Columbus Dispatch that breaks down the next steps following the court’s decision:

Now, the commission has 10 days to get back together, craft new maps and approve them. If the maps receive bipartisan support from two Democrats and at least two Republicans, they could last for 10 years. If they are passed along party lines again, they would last for four years.

The Ohio Supreme Court, in its 4-3 decision, made clear that the commission must follow all of the voter-approved changes to the Ohio Constitution to curb gerrymandering. That includes Section 6, which required the commission to attempt to match the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans.

Justice Melody Stewart, writing for the majority, defined Ohio’s statewide preferences as about 54% of voters preferring GOP candidates and about 46% preferring Democratic candidates over the past decade.

“The commission is required to attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely corresponds to those percentages,” she wrote.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he hasn’t yet read the decision himself. “Our lawyers are trying to figure out what it will take for us to comply with whatever it is that the court ordered.”

Read the full article here.

Updated

The Ohio supreme court ordered the state’s general assembly to redraw more maps that complied with the partisan fairness requirements in the Ohio constitution. It also denounced the consequences of gerrymandering.

“Gerrymandering is the antithetical perversion of representative democracy. It is an abuse of power,” Justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat. “Its singular allure is that it locks in the controlling party’s political power while locking out any other party or executive office from serving as a check and balance to power.”

“When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins,” he also wrote. “That perhaps explains how a party that generally musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation. By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up.”

Ohio Republicans had insisted that the districts they drew were competitive, but the majority of justices said that requirement appears nowhere in the constitution.

Updated

Ohio supreme court strikes down gerrymandered congressional map

The Ohio supreme court struck down the state’s new congressional districts on Friday, saying they were so egregiously distorted to benefit Republicans that they violated the state’s constitution.

The 4-3 ruling marked the first time during the 2021 redistricting cycle where new congressional districts have been blocked. Republicans had been poised to win 12 of the state’s 15 congressional districts, in a state where Republicans usually win a little more than half of the statewide vote.

Writing for the majority, Justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat, wrote that the map violated a provision of the state’s constitution that says districts can’t be drawn in a way that “unduly favorsor disfavors a political party or its incumbents.” The districts also violated a provision that says districts can’t “unduly” split counties.

Voters amended the state constitution to add those provisions in 2018 along with a new procedure meant to foster bipartisanship in redistricting. This is the first redistricting cycle that they are in effect.

Republicans made little attempt to abide by them. The decision comes days after the court struck down new GOP-drawn state legislative districts for similar reasons.

The Republican senator who Anthony Fauci called a “moron” in a congressional hearing wants to introduce a bill both targeting and named after Joe Biden’s chief White House adviser.

Roger Marshall of Kansas will introduce the “Financial Accountability for Uniquely Compensated Individuals [Fauci – geddit] Act”, after claiming Fauci’s financial records were not readily accessible to the public.

The senator attacked Fauci on Tuesday.

“I don’t understand why you’re asking me that question,” said Fauci, 81. “My financial disclosure is public knowledge and has been so for the last 37 years or so.”

He also said: “All you have to do is ask for it. You’re so misinformed, it’s extraordinary.”

Fauci was then heard on a “hot mic” to say: “What a moron. Jesus Christ.”

In a statement, Marshall repeated attack lines pursued by Rand Paul of Kentucky – producing another confrontation with Fauci, and said: “Calling me a moron during a Senate hearing may have alleviated the stress of the least trusted bureaucrat in America, but it didn’t take away from the facts.”

The Center for Public Integrity subsequently said Marshall was wrong, but that Fauci’s records were not easy to obtain.

Third anti-Trump Republican to retire

Another House Republican who voted to impeach Donald Trump will retire at the next election.

John Katko.
John Katko. Photograph: Reuters

John Katko of New York follows Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio in deciding to step down rather than take on a Trump-endorsed challenger for his seat.

Seven other House Republicans voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January, around which five people died and over which more than 725 people have been charged, 11 of them, yesterday, with sedition.

That made it the most bipartisan impeachment. Trump escaped conviction, however, when only seven Republican senators could be convinced to vote for his guilt.

The most prominent among the 10 members of the House who voted for impeachment is Liz Cheney, like Kinzinger a member of the select committee investigating 6 January, thereby confronting and infuriating pro-Trump party leaders. Cheney faces a Trump-backed primary challenger in Wyoming.

In a statement, Katko said he was retiring so he could “enjoy my family and life in a fuller and more present way”.

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • The White House warned Russia is preparing a false flag operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine. “We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
  • Joe Biden announced the federal government will pay 100% of the costs to repair small bridges in communities with limited funds to do so. The policy is part of the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which Biden signed in November. The law includes $27.5bn to repair the nation’s bridges.
  • Biden acknowledged this has been a disappointing few weeks for Democrats, after the party suffered defeats on a voting rights bill and the Build Back Better Act. “There’s a lot of talk about disappointments on things we haven’t gotten done,” Biden said. “We’re going to get a lot of them done.” His comments came one day after Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin indicated they would not support changing the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill, killing any hope of a swift passage for the legislation.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Biden announces federal government will pay 100% of costs to repair small bridges

Joe Biden touted that the bipartisan infrastructure law includes funding for the largest investment in the country’s bridges since the creation of the interstate highway system.

The president noted there are currently 45,000 bridges in the US that are in poor condition and need repairs, resulting in longer commutes for millions of Americans.

As part of the infrastructure law, the federal government will spend $27.5bn to repair those bridges. Biden also announced that the federal government will pay 100% of the costs to repair small bridges in communities with limited funds to do so.

“With this investment, we’re sending a message to those communities and to the people who call them home: you matter,” Biden said. “These investments are consequential, and we’re just getting started.”

The president then concluded his prepared remarks, and he walked away from the podium without taking any questions from reporters.

Joe Biden emphasized that the bipartisan infrastructure law will help to create good-paying jobs for Americans, in addition to improving roads and bridges.

“When we invest in infrastructure, we’re really investing in opportunity,” the president said. “These are investments that will build a better America. It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s real.”

Biden noted that many Americans have written to him explaining how the country’s failing infrastructure has personally impacted them.

“I hear you,” Biden said. “You do matter to me, and we are going to get it done.”

'There's a lot of talk about disappointments,' Biden says after voting rights defeat

Joe Biden is now delivering remarks on the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which he signed in November.

“There’s a lot of talk about disappointments on things we haven’t gotten done. We’re going to get a lot of them done, I might add,” Biden said at the top of his remarks.

“But this is something we did get done, and it’s of enormous consequence to the country,” he said of the infrastructure law.

Biden’s speech comes one day after he acknowledged Democrats may not be able to pass a voting rights bill, after Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin said they would not support changing the filibuster to do so.

Updated

During her White House briefing today, Jen Psaki also addressed the situation in Ukraine, as fears intensify over a potential Russian invasion.

US officials have now accused the Kremlin of planning a false flag operation to justify an invasion, despite recent efforts to deescalate tensions in the region.

“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” Psaki said.

Joe Biden will soon deliver remarks at the White House on the bipartisan infrastructure law, which the president signed in November.

The White House said Biden would be joined by Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor who is overseeing implementation of the infrastructure law.

According to Biden’s official schedule, his remarks will focus on “how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild America’s bridges, which are critical for getting to school and work, moving commerce, and connecting communities”.

Stay tuned.

Jen Psaki was asked for the White House’s message to Joe Biden’s supporters who are disappointed that they have not seen significant progress made on voting rights, climate change and student debt, among other issues.

“Our message to them is that we’re still fighting for absolutely every component of what you just listed,” the White House press secretary said.

“Right now we’re dealing with the realities of the fact that we have a very slim majority in the Senate and in the House. That makes things more challenging than they have been in the past.”

Psaki argued the administration had seen major successes on a variety of other fronts, including boosting coronavirus vaccination rates and helping schools reopen safely.

“So the message from the president to them is, he is committed to continuing to fight,” Psaki said. “He’s going to stay at it.”

Biden will likely reiterate that message next Wednesday, when he holds a formal press conference to mark one year since he took office.

Biden to hold press conference next week

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, is now holding her daily briefing with reporters, and she opened her remarks with an important announcement about Joe Biden’s schedule.

The president will hold a formal press conference next Wednesday at 4pm, as he marks one year in office.

Biden will likely face an array of difficult questions about his failures to pass the Build Back Better Act or a voting rights bill, which are two of his top legislative priorities.

In comparison to his recent predecessors, the president has held relatively few press conferences over his first year in office, although the Psaki often emphasizes that Biden frequently takes questions from reporters in more informal settings.

Updated

The US allegations of Russia planning a false flag operation to justify invading Ukraine come just as Ukraine is reeling from a massive cyber-attack that affected the websites of several government departments.

The Guardian’s Luke Harding reports:

Officials said it was too early to draw any conclusions but they pointed to a ‘long record’ of Russian cyber assaults against Ukraine, with the attack coming after security talks between Moscow and the US and its allies this week ended in stalemate.

Suspected Russian hackers left a message on the foreign ministry website, according to reports. It said: ‘Ukrainians! … All information about you has become public. Be afraid and expect worse. It’s your past, present and future.”’

The message reproduced the Ukrainian flag and map crossed out. It mentioned the Ukrainian insurgent army, or UPA, which fought against the Soviet Union during the second world war. There was also a reference to ‘historical land’.

Updated

Speaking at the White House briefing yesterday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US has been “very clear with Russia on the costs and consequences of further military action or destabilization in Ukraine”.

Sullivan also sent the message that the Biden administration is prepared for all possible outcomes, whether Russia chooses to invade Ukraine or not.

“We’re ready either way,” Sullivan said. “We’re ready to make progress at the negotiating table – serious, tangible progress on important issues of concern to us, to Europe, and to Russia in an environment of de-escalation.

“And we’re ready to take the necessary and proper steps to defend our allies, support our partners, and respond robustly to any naked aggression that might occur.”

Sullivan said the White House has made its case that diplomacy, rather than increased aggression, is “the more sensible path” for Russia.

“The Russians will have to make their own assessment,” he concluded.

Updated

US claims Russia planning ‘false-flag’ operation to justify Ukraine invasion

The Guardian’s Julian Borger and Luke Harding report:

The US has alleged Russia has already positioned saboteurs in Ukraine to carry out a false flag operation to use as a pretext for a Russian attack which Washington says could begin in the coming month.

The allegations, following similar claims by the government in Kyiv, come after the failure of a week of diplomacy to defuse the crisis provoked by Russia’s massing of over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. Moscow has persistently portrayed the crisis as a military threat from Ukraine against Russia, without providing any evidence.

“Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine,” a US official said.

“We have information that indicates Russia has already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine.”

“Russian influence actors already starting to fabricate Ukrainian provocations in state and social media,” the official said, noting that Russia used similar tactics ahead of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, called on her colleagues to recommit themselves to extending the expanded child tax credit program as families missed out on payments today.

“Today is the first time in six months that 36 million families will not receive their monthly Child Tax Credit payments after the Senate failed to act at the end of last year,” DelBene said in a statement.

“While parents will not be receiving this critical lifeline this month, bills are still coming in, food still needs to be put on the table, and the other costs of raising a family still need to be paid.”

DelBene said the expanded program had “provided a historic tax cut to middle-class families and lifted 3.8 million children out of poverty,” underscoring the need to renew the policy.

“I’m committed to continuing the discussion about how we continue to deliver for American families and show that governance can work for them,” DelBene said.

“There is significant energy from Democrats in both chambers and the White House to get this over the finish line. American families cannot afford further inaction or delay.”

The monthly checks from the expanded child tax credit program would have gone out today – if congressional Democrats had been able to pass their Build Back Better bill to extend the program.

Instead, millions of American families will have to go without the money this month because Democrats were unable to pass the $1.75tn spending package due to objections from Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat of West Virginia.

Announcing his opposition last month, Manchin expressed concern about the cost of the legislation, saying, “I cannot take that risk with a staggering debt of more than $29 trillion and inflation taxes that are real and harmful to every hard-working American at the gasoline pumps, grocery stores and utility bills with no end in sight.”

But for the thousands of families in West Virginia who had come to rely on the checks, Manchin’s stance means they will have to find another way to balance their budgets this month.

According to the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, 50,000 children in the state are at risk of falling into poverty now that the checks have come to an end.

Read Zack Harold’s story about the impact that the checks have had on West Virginia families:

Updated

Politico has some details on what happened behind closed doors yesterday, as Joe Biden met with Senate Democrats to discuss filibuster reform and voting rights.

Politico reports:

Even as Democrats filed into their caucus meeting with Biden about changing Senate rules to reform federal elections, a response to GOP-backed state laws designed to restrict ballot access, a good portion of them were unaware they had already lost. Just minutes before the group’s meeting with Biden, [Kyrsten Sinema] slammed the door on weakening the filibuster during a speech on the Senate floor Biden once called home.

‘People were just surprised when we went in there. Because no one knew she was on the floor speaking’ in defense of the filibuster, said a Democratic senator who missed Sinema’s remarks. ‘There were probably 20 people in there that didn’t even know that she had said anything.’

Biden had prepared remarks for the meeting but instead opted to speak off-the-cuff, recalling that he got the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) to support the Voting Rights Act while they were both in Congress and arguing that a majority of today’s Republicans today wouldn’t support that landmark bill. Biden told senators he couldn’t remember a time in U.S. history where a party had been so enthralled to one person as the GOP is to former President Donald Trump.

Joe Biden held a meeting with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema at the White House last night for another discussion on filibuster reform and voting rights.

The White House described the three Democrats’ conversation as “a candid and respectful exchange of views about voting rights”.

Both Biden and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer will likely still try to sway Manchin and Sinema on changing the filibuster, in the hopes of getting a voting rights bill passed before the midterms.

But Manchin and Sinema have sounded quite adamant that they will not support rule changes to get a voting rights bill passed, so Biden and Schumer will have their work cut out for them.

Kyrsten Sinema took to the Senate floor yesterday opposing any changes to the filibuster, the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance legislation, while Democrats currently hold a bare majority in the 100-seat chamber and two voting rights bills are stalled.

“While I continue to support these [voting rights] bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country,” she said.

She added: “We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy, and it cannot be achieved by one party alone. It cannot be achieved solely by the federal government. The response requires something greater and, yes, more difficult than what the Senate is discussing today.”

Sinema’s speech came at an extremely perilous moment for US democracy. Republican lawmakers in 19 states have enacted 34 new laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, that impose new voting restrictions.

They have also passed a slew of bills that seek to inject more partisan control into election administration and the counting of votes, an unprecedented trend experts are deeply concerned about and call election subversion.

Many of those measures have been passed in state legislatures on simple majority, party-line votes.

Biden to tout infrastructure law after major defeat on voting rights

Greetings from Washington, live blog readers.

Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver a speech this afternoon on the bipartisan infrastructure law, which he signed in November.

The remarks will focus on how the law “will rebuild America’s bridges, which are critical for getting to school and work, moving commerce, and connecting communities,” according to the White House.

The speech comes one day after Biden was dealt a major defeat by two members of his own party in the debate over voting rights and filibuster reform.

Kyrsten Sinema on the left and Joe Biden on the right.
Kyrsten Sinema on the left and Joe Biden on the right. Composite: Senate TV | Shutterstock

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin made it clear yesterday that they will not support changing the filibuster, leaving Democrats with no path for passing a voting rights bill.

Simultaneously, Biden’s Build Back Better bill has also stalled in the Senate due to Manchin’s objections to the $1.75tn spending package.

So, as Biden touts the infrastructure law today, keep in mind that it may be his last significant legislative accomplishment for the time being.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

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