Senate hearing begins to hear Blinken’s Ukraine testimony
A hearing of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee is under way on Capitol Hill, chair Bob Menendez welcoming the secretary of state Antony Blinken to testify about his recent visit to Ukraine, and slamming Russia’s invasion of the country.
The New Jersey Democrat framed the conflict as one between “violent autocrats [and] those of us fighting for a rules based international order for democracy, human rights and cause of freedom around the world.”
Blinken will give an account of his weekend trip to meet Ukraine’s leaders, including president Volodymyr Zelenskiiy, with defense secretary Lloyd Austin.
“Your recent trip to Ukraine with Secretary Austin to show support for President Zelinskiiy and the Ukrainian people, and to continue shining a light on Russia’s military brazen abuse of civilians that certainly amount to war crimes, was a critical display of that unity,” Menendez told Blinken.
Days before Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene appeared in a text to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to press for Donald Trump to overturn his 2020 election defeat by invoking martial law, new messages show.
The message – one of more than 2,000 texts turned over by Meadows to the House select committee investigating January 6 and first reported by CNN – shows that some of Trump’s most ardent allies on Capitol Hill were pressing for Trump to return himself to office even after the Capitol attack.
“In our private chat with only Members several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call Marshall [sic] law,” Greene texted on 17 January. “I just wanted you to tell him. They stole this election. We all know. They will destroy our country next.”
The message about Trump potentially invoking martial law, earlier reported by CNN on Monday and confirmed by the Guardian, came a month after the idea had been raised in a heated Oval Office meeting a month before, where Trump considered ways to overturn the 2020 election.
Meadows did not appear to respond to Greene’s text. But the messages Trump’s top White House aide was receiving shows the extraordinary ideas swirling around Trump after he and his operatives were unable to stop the certification of Biden’s election win on January 6.
Greene – one of Trump’s fiercest far-right defenders on Capitol Hill – also texted Meadows days before the Capitol attack asking about how to prepare for objections to Biden’s win at the joint session of Congress, the text messages show.
“Good morning Mark, I’m here in DC. We have to get organized for the 6th,” Greene wrote on 31 December. “I would like to meet with Rudy Giuliani again. We didn’t get to speak with him long. Also anyone who can help. We are getting a lot of members on board.”
Biden seeks to boost racial justice resume with pardons
Joe Biden will today issue the first pardons of his administration, and unveil a package of help for former inmates re-entering society, as he seeks to strengthen his social and racial justice resume ahead of November’s midterm elections.
The president is announcing three pardons, for individuals he says have “demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities”.
An additional 75 people convicted of non-violent drugs offenses will also see their sentences commuted.
Recognizing April as “second chance month”, Biden said in a White House statement:
America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation. Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.
Biden is hoping today’s measures will resonate with the minority voters that Democrats will need to retain control of the House and Senate in November, but they fall far short of demands by criminal justice advocates for reduced sentences for non-violent drug crimes, and the release of those incarcerated for those offenses.
Minorities, especially blacks, are incarcerated at a much higher rate than the white population.
The Biden package includes a $145m job training program in federal prisons and a another $140m for a grant program helping inmates after their release. Biden said:
Helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime.
The three pardoned, Reuters reports, are Betty Jo Bogans, 51, who served a seven-year sentence stemming from a 1998 conviction for possessing crack cocaine for her boyfriend.
Dexter Jackson, 52, who was convicted in 2002 for letting marijuana distributors use his pool hall.
Abraham Bolden, 86, the first Black member of a president’s Secret Service detail under President John F Kennedy, who served several years in prison for attempting to sell his Secret Service file.
Those seeing their sentences reduced have already served almost 10 years in prison, on average, for nonviolent drug offenses and have shown a commitment to rehabilitation, the White House said.
Read the White House fact sheet here.
Good morning, happy Tuesday, and welcome to the US politics blog. We’ve plenty to talk about.
Joe Biden will issue the first pardons of his administration, seeking to bolster his social and racial justice resume ahead of November’s midterm elections. The president will pardon three people who have “demonstrated their rehabilitation” and commute the sentences of 75 others convicted of non-violent, felony drug offenses.
There are developments in Ukraine, which you can follow on our main live news blog here.
And back in the US today:
- Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, will update the Senate’s foreign affairs committee this morning about his weekend trip to Ukraine with the defense secretary Lloyd Austin.
- The White House is finalizing the amount of its request to Congress for a new package of humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine. Joe Biden authorized another $800m in arms last week and said he had almost exhausted the existing drawdown.
- The US supreme court is weighing the Biden administration’s push to rescind the Trump-era “migration protection protocols” that required asylum seekers to remain in Mexico to await hearings. Separately, a federal judge has blocked the administration’s plans to end the Title 42 rule next month blocking migrants because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Covid-19 will be a main topic of the White House daily briefing at 3pm. The government’s new pandemic response coordinator Dr Ashish Jha will join White House press secretary Jen Psaki at the podium.