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Baker and Tapper among rugby stars set to play for equal pay in US sevens league

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Perry Baker, a double World Rugby player of the year, leads a slate of men’s and women’s “ambassadors” signed to play for equal pay in Premier Rugby Sevens (PR7s), a new US professional competition in the shortened form of rugby union.

Men’s US Eagles Carlin Isles, Danny Barrett, Stephen Tomasin and Folau Niua are also due to feature in a pilot event after the Olympic Games in Tokyo, most likely on a Saturday in October.

Women’s Eagles Abby Gustaitis, Ilona Maher and Naya Tapper have also signed. One more women’s international and one player from the men’s squad are due to be announced.

Ultimately, PR7s aims to run six men’s teams and four women’s teams, each featuring one ambassador, on a circuit of one-day tournaments in cities around the US. It is the brainchild of Owen Scannell, an ex-investment banker who played at Dartmouth and was director of operations for the New England Free Jacks in Major League Rugby.

Speaking to the Guardian, Scannell said the 10 ambassadors would “help with the visibility, some of the marketing outreach, and they will almost certainly be distributed as a captain for each team, with other players coming in as well”.

Tryouts will be held, Scannell said, adding: “We are looking at a vast majority, if not exclusively American players.”

Mike Tolkin, who coached the US men’s 15-a-side team at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and Rugby United New York in MLR in 2019, is PR7s general manager.

In a statement, Tolkin said: “Sevens is a fast-paced and dynamic game requiring skill, speed, power and precision. It’s an incredibly entertaining game to watch and PR7s wants to showcase the immense talent and athleticism of our athletes.”

Four venues for the pilot event are under consideration, one an NFL stadium. The other three potential venues are home to minor league baseball and soccer – the likely scale for regular-season play.

All the venues under consideration, Scannell said, are in eastern or central time zones. Previous pro sevens events in the US, on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit, have been played in the west, in San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. On 25 and 26 June a “Quest for Gold” international event will be played as preparation for the Olympics at the home of the LA Galaxy MLS team, Dignity Health Sports Park.

Scannell said the first season of PR7s proper, in 2022, would feature a geographical spread of between six and 10 events.

Scannell said talks were ongoing for TV network coverage of the pilot event with every game available online. Funding, via a “group of private investors”, remains confidential.

Scannell said PR7s was close to a sanctioning agreement with USA Rugby.

As for the teams which PR7s will create, he said the process would at first feature “a little bit more art than science”.

“We would like to create some sort of regional balances on teams so they have some sort of area of the country that they represent,” he said, adding: “I think that adds to the fun and the rivalry that we’re trying to create.”

Naya Tapper is tackled by Ellia Green of Australia in Dubai in 2019.
Naya Tapper is tackled by Ellia Green of Australia in Dubai in 2019. Photograph: François Nel/Getty Images

Scannell also said he wanted to produce “teams that are very competitive, outcomes that are uncertain and exciting for fans” and said: “We don’t want to have a Washington Generals side out there.”

The Generals are a basketball team that plays – and almost always loses – exhibition games against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Though disrupted by the pandemic, the US is home to thriving men’s and women’s sevens scenes contested by colleges and clubs. The current season of MLR, the 15-a-side US men’s pro league, will end with a championship game in August.

“We have a great relationship with MLR and think they’re doing a great job in terms of bringing eyeballs to the sport and giving fans a great experience,” Scannell said.

“Obviously there’s specialisation between the two forms of the game. If there are players that are interested in playing sevens, getting into that player pool is something we’d potentially look at.”

PR7s is not the first attempt to monetise sevens in the US.

An expanded version of the game, variously named Ultra Sevens or Super Sevens and featuring rotating squads playing 48-minute games in four periods instead of regular 15-minute contests in two halves, played a test event in 2014. It surfaced again in 2017.

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Politics

Five fertility clinic patients awarded $15m after failure of freezing tank

five-fertility-clinic-patients-awarded-$15m-after-failure-of-freezing-tank

Five patients of a California fertility center have been awarded a total of $15m after a freezing tank failed, rendering some of more than 3,500 frozen human embryos and eggs unviable.

While the extent of the damage from the accidental thaw is unclear, jurors awarded the sum to clients of the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco after finding that the storage tank maker, Chart Industries, knew about a defect that prevented accurate temperature monitoring and had not warned the center about the problem.

The case could have significant consequences for a fertility industry estimated to be worth $37bn by 2030 and comes amid declining fertility rates and a drop in childbirth, recently described as a Covid baby-bust.

Jurors in the case found that Chart was 90% and Pacific Fertility 10% responsible for the failure to adequately safeguard the material. It marks the first time a jury has awarded damages in a case involving the destruction of eggs and embryos.

“This verdict should be a wake-up call for fertility centers. The jury’s award shows that when clinics make mistakes they can be devastating,” Adam Wolf, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Guardian.

At the trial, the freezer manufacturer argued that the error was caused by fertility clinic lab employees unplugging the tank’s malfunctioning controller and then keeping eggs and embryos in a container with no temperature-alert system in operation for 17 days.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs presented evidence that Chart knew about a problem with the tank from a 2012 internal study and had received complaints about a malfunctioning controller since 2015.

Laura and Kevin Parsell, a couple who had four frozen embryos that were lost, were awarded $7.2m. Rosalynn Enfield, a 43-year-old mother of two who lost 18 eggs, was awarded $2.6m; Adrienne Sletten, a 43-year-old woman who lost two eggs, was awarded $2.075m. Chloe Poynton, a 39-year-old woman who lost nine eggs, was awarded $3.1m.

“It’s really painful to be at a baby shower celebrating someone else’s family being built and knowing inside you’ll never get that,” Poynton told the court.

In closing arguments last week, attorney Dena Sharp had asked for up to $30m in damages. “Nothing can bring these eggs and embryos back,” Sharp said. “Nothing can turn back that biological clock. Nothing can truly restore what these plaintiffs had taken from them.”

Wolf, meanwhile, said many of those who had lost eggs and embryos, were still struggling with their loss.

The claim was the first to come to trial out of 140 federal lawsuits filed against the tank manufacturer over the accident. A second trial involving about five other plaintiffs is scheduled to begin later this year.

But Pacific Fertility is not the sole fertility clinic to have reported problems with Chart’s freezer. More than 4,000 eggs and embryos were lost at the University Hospitals Fertility Clinic in Cleveland. About 150 families have settled claims with the clinic. Other related lawsuits are ongoing.

Wolf said his firm, Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway, had represented hundreds of people over eight years in claims against the fertility industry, which is largely unregulated except in terms of the way in which clinics can advertise their pregnancy success rates.

Groups such as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine set industry standards for facilities that opt in, but the recommendations are voluntary. In some cases, clinics have used the wrong sperm and there is no oversight in terms of registering recipients of third-party sperm.

“Tragically we see very serious errors on a daily basis. These are the wild west days of the American fertility industry. It operates behind closed doors, and under a veil of secrecy. It can do, basically, whatever it likes, and that’s no way for an industry that is so important to operate,” Wolf said.

Naomi Cahn, director of the University of Virginia’s Family Law Center, said that last week’s verdict, could bring calls for greater regulation.

“Storage tank breakdowns are one example of problems in this industry. The lack of oversight, ranging from not knowing the if tanks are being appropriately regulated to manufacturing defects to not knowing how many other people may have used the same donor eggs or sperm, is worrying.”

As its stands, fertility clinics are required only to report success rates when they use reproductive technology involving eggs, but not when only sperm is used. “But reporting success rates does not regulate how the eggs are stored or other types of negligence,” Cahn said.

While the ASRM has a strong role in providing guidance, greater oversight is required to protect future families, Cahn says. If she were to issue a call to lawmakers, she added, it would be to “establish one single government entity to oversee the fertility industry and ensure that entity issues appropriate regulations including certification of all aspects of the technology”.

“We don’t want to interfere with the patient-physician relationship, we just want to make sure that when you trust your egg, sperm and embryos to a tank, that tank will not malfunction and there are appropriate procedures in the clinic if it does.”

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‘My God, I’m in a whale’s mouth’: lobster diver on brush with hungry humpback

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A New England lobsterman has described the moment he realised he was trapped in the mouth of a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod.

“Oh my God, I’m in a whale’s mouth and he’s trying to swallow me. I thought to myself, ‘hey, this is it. I’m finally going to die. There’s no getting out of here,’’’ Michael Packard told a local news station in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Packard, 56, was 45ft down off Race Point in search of lobsters when the feeding whale, presumed to be a juvenile, took him. He said he “felt this huge bump and everything went dark”.

At first the fisherman assumed he had been attacked by a great white [shark] buthe could find no teeth. “It was happening so fast,” Packard said. “My only thought was how to get out of that mouth.”

Partially ingested in the leviathan’s maw, and surrounded by a curtain of filtering baleen, Packard said he kept breathing into the regulator of his scuba tank.

“I realised there was no overcoming a beast of that size. He was going to do with me what he wanted to do. He was going to spit me out or swallow me.”

Later, during the half-minute ordeal, Packard said he began to consider his situation more clearly: “Here I am, I’m breathing air. Am I going to be breathing air in this whale’s mouth until it runs out? Crazy stuff.”

The whale thought better.

Michael Packard, 56, was diving off Provincetown when ‘all of a sudden I felt this huge bump, and everything went dark’.
Michael Packard, 56, was diving off Provincetown when ‘all of a sudden I felt this huge bump, and everything went dark’. Photograph: WBZ

“All of a sudden he went up to the surface and just erupted and started shaking his head. I just got thrown in the air and landed in the water,” Packard recalled. “I was free and I just floated there. I couldn’t believe … I’m here to tell it.”

Boat captain Joe Francis, who had been following Packard’s bubbles, told CBS Boston: “I saw Mike come flying out of the water feet first with his flippers on and land back in the water. I jumped aboard the boat. We got him up, got his tank off. Got him on the deck and calmed him down and he goes, ‘Joe, I was in the mouth of a whale.’ He goes ‘I can’t believe it, I was in the mouth of a whale, Joe!’”

Packard was taken to hospital and discharged later that day. “He’s damn lucky to be alive,” Francis added.

Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan and Albert and the Whale: Albrecht Dürer and How Art Imagines Our World, and a friend of Packard and his fishing partner Josiah Mayo, says the humpback was almost certainly as surprised as the diver.

Hoare says Herring Cove beach, adjacent to Race Point and where the incident took place, is shallow and known for gatherings of juvenile humpbacks feeding on sand eels at this time of year.

Whales have poor forward vision, he noted. “Mike would have been down there collecting lobsters, and the whale, trying to swallow sand eels, would have suddenly found he had a diver in his mouth while he or she was dragging in a huge volume of water.”

But before the whale could push the water out through the baleen filter – and lick the sand eels off with the tongue – the individual would have found Packard. Since a humpback’s esophagus wont accept anything larger than a melon, the whale would probably have panicked. “This young humpback is hanging out, it really hasn’t learned how to feed properly and doing stupid things, and suddenly he’s in trouble.

“He’s gulped Michael and now has this huge thing in mouth. That would be totally freaky for a whale, so it’s gone up to the surface, and in a human way, vomited him out. The last thing a whale wants in its mouth is something so big it would choke it.

“Michael is inside the whale, and God knows what he’s thinking, but anyone on the Cape knows the problem with great whites. “They are there, and they’re huge, and three people have been attacked – one fatally – in the past year,” says Hoare.

Hoare says Packard will be transformed in to mythic figure in Provincetown – “the Jonah who came back. He’ll never have pay for another drink for the rest of his life.” The film-maker John Waters, a seasonal resident of Provincetown, had been in touch. “Are you jealous, and do you believe it?” Waters wrote.

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Talks in Washington deadlocked as Biden meets UK PM Johnson – live

Summary

  • Joe Biden met with Boris Johnson in Cornwall while Jill Biden wore a “love” blazer.

ABC News
(@ABC)

First Lady Jill Biden, sporting a jacket with the words ‘love’ on the back, poses for a photograph looking out over the sea, at Carbis Bay, in Cornwall ahead of the G7 summit. https://t.co/EYoMGkWUu1 pic.twitter.com/cm3wx2Hha4

June 10, 2021

  • Meanwhile, talks deadlocked on, well, a lot of things – but mostly the bipartisan negotiations around the infrastructure plan. Lawmakers on both side were expressing frustration Thursday with the concept of bipartisanship, but Senator Mitt Romney hinted at a possible agreement.
  • Representative Ilhan Omar received death threats as members of her own party condemned her for saying that “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban.

Today in San Francisco, Rob Bonta, California’s attorney general, said that his office has filed an appeal of the recent federal court decision that struck down the state’s assault weapon restrictions.

Standing alongside Governor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and representatives from Brady United and the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Bonta said that while the opinion was of “great concern”, “we are not deterred by this ruling.”

This appeal comes after a 4 June ruling from Judge Roger Benitez that ruled that California’s 32 year-old restrictions were unconstitutional. The decision drew immediate criticism for Benitez’s comparison of assault weapons to “Swiss army knives” and false claim that more Californians have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings.

Bonta is also extending the 30-day-stay, so that the current laws stay in effect throughout the appeal process.

Learn more about what Judge Benitez’s ruling mean for the state here:

Florida public schools ban teaching of critical-race theory

The Florida Board of Education has approved tougher guidelines for teaching US history in public schools that prohibits teachers from discussing critical-race theory or the 1619 Project.

The reactive push against the movement to teaching non-whitewashed versions of American history that don’t downplay the role of slavery and racism in the founding of the country has long been a conservative rallying point. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, tweeted that critical-race theory was “state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools”.

Travis Akers
(@travisakers)

History classes in Florida now will just be students coloring in a picture of white Jesus carrying an American flag while gazing upon a bald eagle soaring through the fireworks-filled sky.

Class concludes with a rousing rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.”

June 10, 2021

Something may have happened. Or not. But that’s pretty much the state of it this week, isn’t it?

Seung Min Kim
(@seungminkim)

Some newsy developments: Per @MittRomney, the infrastructure Gang of 10 have reached an agreement on the overall size of the package, how much it’ll spend on each provision and how they’ll pay for it. He and other Rs will brief other Republicans, Ds will brief admin officials

June 10, 2021

We’re back on the infrastructure plan, and the hopes of a bipartisan agreement. Joe Biden ended negotiations with Republicans before he left on his first overseas trip, but said he planned to stay in touch. People on both sides are saying the time for bipartisanship is done, whether related to the infrastructure plan or otherwise.

But! Possibly an agreement, per Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney. Except someone forgot to tell Montana Senator Jon Tester.

Seung Min Kim
(@seungminkim)

Well. Tester, a member of the Infra 10, said an agreement was “news to me”

June 10, 2021

So could there be an agreement? Unclear. We’ll see.

Updated

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio set Twitter ablaze today when he decided to preview a commercial for ranked-choice voting with a giant ballot of pizza toppings.

Ranked-choice voting is when you rank a number of candidates for each race. If none wins an outright majority in the first round of counting, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and then the second-place votes are counted, and this keeps going until someone earns at least 50% of the votes plus one.

It wasn’t the type of voting that stirred controversy, but de Blasio’s ranking: 1. Green peppers 2. Green olives 3. Sausage 4. Mushrooms 5. Pepperoni

AJ
(@ajchavar)

has the mayor eaten a pizza https://t.co/M3TKG13Lek

June 10, 2021

katie honan
(@katie_honan)

The mayor is now YELLING about pineapple on pizza. “THIS IS NOT CALIFORNIA,” he says, adding it’s offensive to his Italian ancestors.

Clams on pizza? “We’re not in New Haven,” he says. Life has certainly been strange over the last 15 or so months.

June 10, 2021

Brittny Pierre
(@sleep2dream)

TRASH! deblasio should stay in his lane. He eats pizza with a fork and knife AND he’s a red sox fan. https://t.co/EsUL17H8Ki

June 10, 2021

And also, there’s also the fact that pizza is not quite the right analogy for an election.

Ariel Edwards-Levy
(@aedwardslevy)

pizza toppings are an especially fitting choice of example for ranked-choice voting because, as everybody knows, a finalized pizza can only include precisely one (1) topping https://t.co/FIKWPS2pC6

June 10, 2021

The FBI director, Christopher Wray, is testifying before the House judiciary committee on oversight of the FBI. Hate violence and white supremacist ideology were large focuses, and Wray received a number of questions about the 6 January attack on the US Capitol.

House Judiciary Dems
(@HouseJudiciary)

“On the days leading up to the January 6th attack, did the FBI simply miss evidence, or did it see the evidence and fail to piece it together?”

Chairman @RepJerryNadler questions @FBI Director Wray pic.twitter.com/JdV3aXxWJ1

June 10, 2021

Josh Gerstein
(@joshgerstein)

FBI’s Wray says unaware of any investigation specifically looking at Trump’s rhetoric in advance of the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6

June 10, 2021

Updated

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is apparently pretty done with bipartisanship too.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(@AOC)

Pres. Biden & Senate Dems should take a step back and ask themselves if playing patty-cake w GOP Senators is really worth the dismantling of people’s voting rights, setting the planet on fire, allowing massive corporations and the wealthy to not pay their fair share of taxes, etc

June 9, 2021

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(@AOC)

During the Obama admin, folks thought we’d have a 60 Dem majority for a while. It lasted 4 months.

Dems are burning precious time & impact negotiating w/GOP who won’t even vote for a Jan 6 commission. McConnell’s plan is to run out the clock.

It’s a hustle. We need to move now.

June 9, 2021

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who thinks “the era of bipartisanship is over”, doesn’t seem particularly phased.

Sahil Kapur
(@sahilkapur)

Mitch McConnell responds to AOC’s tweet on Fox News: “Well, to satisfy that particular member of Congress, I think the Democrats would have to have 60 votes in the Senate and all of them would have to be as far left as she is. I think her big complaint is with her own party.” https://t.co/mLGMGwjMxi

June 10, 2021

More Democrats are joining together to condemn Minnesota Ilhan Omar for saying that “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban.” Meanwhile, more of her allies are rallying behind her in support as well.

Tom Suozzi
(@RepTomSuozzi)

pic.twitter.com/uX2F9mwNHx

June 10, 2021

Mehdi Hasan
(@mehdirhasan)

Muslim Americans are fed up of constantly being accused of supporting terrorism – including by liberals and Democrats! – when they/we simply make factual points about international law or foreign policies or war crimes.

It’s cynical, dehumanizing, and, yes bigoted.

June 10, 2021

Jamil Dakwar
(@jdakwar)

Once again #IStandWithIlhan 👇🏽 https://t.co/QJOdvPFP91

June 10, 2021

Here’s our first look at the meeting between Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and First Lady Jill Biden and Carrie Johnson.

Steve Holland
(@steveholland1)

“It’s gorgeous, I don’t want to go home,” said President Biden of seaside view in Carbis Bay with PM Boris Johnson. pic.twitter.com/Sbv9uQCJRV

June 10, 2021

Howard Mortman
(@HowardMortman)

Biden and Boris Johnson pic.twitter.com/ZkVj3j74zw

June 10, 2021

The Recount
(@therecount)

First Lady Jill Biden sports a “LOVE” jacket while meeting with UK PM Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson. pic.twitter.com/dGV5C62RVp

June 10, 2021

Updated

A lot has been hyped about bipartisanship this week. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “the era of bipartisanship is over”, with every bill the Democrats have introduced in June including something he said Republicans could not support. Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin gave it as the reason why he wasn’t voting for the For The People bill that would voting rights, because he believed such legislation needed to be bipartisan.

Then there was the bipartisan negotiations between Joe Biden and Republicans over an infrastructure plan. On Tuesday, Biden ended negotiations. Despite his willingness to reduce his plan by more than $1 trillion, Republicans had increased their proposed new investments by only $150bn. And then there was the issue of tax increases.

Though Biden said he would stay in touch with Republicans during his trip, things aren’t looking great.

Manu Raju
(@mkraju)

“No,” Angus King, one of the bipartisan negotiators on infrastructure, said when I asked if he were confident a bipartisan deal could be reached among the group. Said he’s “hopeful”

June 10, 2021

About 90 advocacy groups have since called on Biden and the Democrats to use the partisan reconciliation process instead of relying on negotiations.

Reconciliation is a rule that allows Congress to pass new budget resolutions with new spending priorities with a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate without having to worry about a filibuster.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are already working on a plan to pass an infrastructure measure via the reconciliation process.

Omar receives death threats as lawmakers condemn her comments

Democratic Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar is once again receiving death threats as 12 members of her own party condemn her for appearing to liken Hamas and the Taliban to Israel and the United States.

“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she tweeted in a question to Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about the International Criminal Court on Monday. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

Rep. Brad Schneider
(@RepSchneider)

Equating the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and organizations that engage in terrorism discredits one’s intended argument and reflects deep-seated prejudice. https://t.co/KOdgPqvQdT

June 10, 2021

Andrew Desiderio
(@AndrewDesiderio)

Group of House Democrats is out with a statement tonight condemning Ilhan Omar’s recent comments, saying they “give cover to terrorist groups.” pic.twitter.com/kDxSkb7OCi

June 10, 2021

Omar responded by calling out the “shameful” Islamaphobic tropes in her colleagues’ statement.

“The constant harassment and silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable,” she tweeted.

Ilhan Omar
(@IlhanMN)

Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from “deeply seated prejudice”. You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.

June 10, 2021

Rashida Tlaib
(@RashidaTlaib)

I am tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing @IlhanMN. Their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible. That’s better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics. https://t.co/5n9OxZbK8Q

June 10, 2021

Biden to meet with Johnson as party clashes continue back home

Howdy, liveblog readers. Happy Thursday.

We begin today with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden departing for Cornwall in the United Kingdom to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie Johnson.

It’s expected that everyone will use the meeting as a chance to reaffirm the “special relationship” between the US and the UK – though Johnson has confirmed that he thinks the term seems “needy and weak” and Biden has been quoted calling Johnson a “physical and emotional clone” of Donald Trump.

It’s also likely that Biden and Johnson will speak about the working groups the two governments have formed to look into lifting travel restrictions between the US and UK.

But in addition to these niceties, this meeting takes place with the US issuing a warning to the UK’s Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, over negotiations over border checks in Northern Ireland.

The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour delves into the situation more here:

Meanwhile, back home, talks on a bipartisan infrastructure deal remained at an impasse, with Republicans refusing to raise taxes to pay for the plan and Biden insisting on it.

Ronald Klain
(@WHCOS)

Lots of discussion today on the Hill about how to pay for much needed infrastructure.

I’m just going to leave this here. pic.twitter.com/MwzLtUguNn

June 9, 2021

Updated

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