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Steel nationalisation ‘least likely’ outcome to Liberty crisis – business live

steel-nationalisation-‘least-likely’-outcome-to-liberty-crisis-–-business-live

UK retail sales slowed in May after April surge

After a reopening boom in April, UK retailers say that sales returned to normal this month.

Slightly more retailers said that sales were lower than an average May than higher, according to the Confederation of British Industry’s monthly survey of the sector

This pulled its sales balance for the time of year to -3, from +16 in April when non-essential shops were allowed to open.

Sales volumes and orders were much stronger than a year ago — during the first lockdown.

But retailers predicted that sales will remain close to seasonal norms next month, suggesting the initial post-lockdown boost may have faded (last week, the ONS reported that retail sales surged by 9.2% in April, with clothing sales very strong)

CBI Economics
(@CBI_Economics)

Retailers reported sales volumes as being broadly average for the time of year in May, and they expect volumes to remain in line with seasonal norms next month. #DTS pic.twitter.com/t7QRuVY8MS

May 25, 2021

Ben Jones, Principal Economist at the CBI, said the figures are a little disappointing:


“The fact that sales were in line with seasonal norms is a definite improvement from earlier in the year, but this month’s survey was perhaps a touch disappointing after April’s stronger results.

“Some retailers have suggested the increase in demand after the initial reopening of non-essential retail in early April was either short-lived or less strong than expected. And non-store sales remain well above seasonal norms, suggesting that some consumers who migrated to online shopping during the pandemic have not fully shifted back to old habits.

“As the economy moves toward a new normal, it’s clear that the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing challenges for some retailers. The trend away from bricks-and-mortar retail has accelerated, while rent arrears and accrued debts have added to the cumulative burden of costs. The lockdown may be over, but its impact on the sector will be felt for a good while yet.”

The survey did highlight a jump in investment plans:

CBI Economics
(@CBI_Economics)

Investment intentions for the year ahead grew at the fastest pace since February 1994. #DTS pic.twitter.com/gXQiCWW9j9

May 25, 2021

But worryingly, retailers’ employment plans remained weak:

CBI Economics
(@CBI_Economics)

However, employment continued to fall across the retail sector in the year to May, with a similar decline expected next month. #DTS pic.twitter.com/dtwQFYMMU8

May 25, 2021

MPs also heard from the steel industry today, with UK Steel director-general Gareth Stace giving a reality check on the greener technologies to clean up steel:

Paul Kelso
(@pkelso)

.@UKSteel__ DG Gareth Stace offers a reality check on decarbonising British steel industry: “Carbon capture & storage are largely untested at scale & zero-carbon hydrogen is a long way off… we haven’t even taken the first step”

May 25, 2021

More from the hearing:

Paul Kelso
(@pkelso)

Gareth Stace @UKSteel__ “I feel like a broken record… Government attention only looks at us when there is a crisis, but we can compete globally and we are an enabling industry”

May 25, 2021

Jessica Morden MP 💙
(@jessicamordenmp)

In @CommonsBEIS inquiry @UKSteel__‘s Gareth Stace rightly notes that the Government keeps acknowledging it should do something about the sky-high industrial energy prices facing our steel sector but we need meaningful action not words.

May 25, 2021

Jessica Morden MP 💙
(@jessicamordenmp)

Spot on from @CommunityUnion‘s @Roy_Rickhuss in @CommonsBEIS inquiry highlighting how our superb steel workforce has risen to the challenges & changes the sector has faced over the years and rightly calling for leadership from government & employers to help the sector thrive.

May 25, 2021

Updated

Kwarteng: looking at blue hydrogen as part of strategy

Q: Are we behind the curve on hydrogen steel compared to Europe, where there are 23 projects underway?

Kwasi Kwarteng insisted that the UK is up to speed on hydrogen, and has a hydrogen strategy coming out.

And he adds that it looks at ‘blue hydrogen’ as well as green hydrogen (which he says Germany and the EU are focused on)

We’re in a position of “a twin track on hydrogen”, Kwarteng says, and he argues that Britain’s future success here will reflect private investment, not just government spending.

Chemistry lesson time…

The idea here is that hydrogen can be used to fuel the steelmaking process, cutting the amount of coal burned to melt the iron ore to make steel, the major cause of carbon emissions by the sector.

Green hydrogen is produced using electrolysis (splitting two water molecules into two hydrogens and an oxygen (2H20 -> 2H2 + O2)

Blue hydrogen, though, splits natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide — and then captures and stores the CO2.

Green hydrogen is more expensive as it requires more energy, as electrolysis requires electricity to break the water molecules. But if you use renewable energy, then it’s very clean – a ‘zero-carbon’ hydrogen.

Blue hydrogen is cheaper. But it relies on carbon capture and storage systems, otherwise you’re pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and negating your carbon emission goals (so called ‘grey hydrogen’).

Updated

Q: Is the government’s decarbonisation strategy inconsistent with continuing to produce ore-based steel?

Secretary of state Kwasi Kwarteng says the government is aiming for an 80% reduction in UK carbon emissions by 2035 (as Boris Johnson committed last month)

So as part of that, he expects the blast furnace process to be phased out over the next 14 years.

The logic of decarbonisation is that we will come up with steel production that is less carbon-emitting, Kwarteng continues.

Q: So the target is net zero, not absolute zero, with a role for basic oxygen steelmaking?

No-one has talked about an absolute zero carbon target, Kwarteng replies. We’re want to move to a cleaner, less carbon-emitting process.

He also points to carbon capture and storage as key part of this. There’s also an opportunity for a greater use of recycling scrap steel. Kwarteng also points to the Clean Steel fund.

Kwasi Kwarteng is also asked about how he can square the issue of supporting steel firms move to ‘green’ steel, while not using subsidies to prop up unsustainable companies.

Kwarteng says the government has a ‘strategic interest’ in maintaining steel, like all G7 nations, so once you’re committed you need to provide support when the market turns against it.

Q: So which other industries are strategic? You’ll start with steel, and then other companies will come to your door. Isn’t it open season?

Kwarteng reiterates that all steel industries are supported by their national governments in some way, and that there’s a strategic case for steel in the UK.

Kwarteng: Nationalisation of steel is unlikely

Q: As UK steel is a strategic sector, is nationalisation a viable business option, asks Labour MP Charlotte Nichols.

Kwasi Kwarteng says he looks at all options. But nationalisation is an extreme occurrence that is unlikely to happen.

Kwarteng says this view has been “vindicated” by the fact that GFG have put some assets up for sale, so we must take Mr Gupta at his word, and see if he can refinance GFG as he claims.

I’m glad to see he’s doing that, the secretary of state says.

There is a case for UK-produced steel, on the basis of heading towards decarbonisation, Kwarteng adds.

Q: So is nationalisation ruled out?

Nothing is ruled in or out, but nationalisation is the least likely option, Kwarteng replies.

Paul Kelso
(@pkelso)

Central point from @KwasiKwarteng re support for steel industry: “Government support is conditional on decarbonisation and green steel”. Says that offers a chance for a “more sustainable future”

May 25, 2021

Updated

Alexander Stafford, MP for Rother Valley, who has many steel workers in his constituency, asks how viable Liberty Steel’s sites are in the UK.

Kwasi Kwarteng says the GFG’s assets being put for sale (including the aerospace steel business in Stocksbridge, Yorkshire) are fundamentally good assets with skilled, dedicated workers and very experienced managers.

Liberty’s problem is the financial engineering at GFG, the leverage and debt that they’ve incurred, which put a lot of pressure on those businesses.

Without that, there is healthy interest in the assets, and they have a viable future.

Q: GFG Alliance have received many loans, grants and guarantees from other governments and agencies, including in Scotland, Wales, Italy, France and Australia — why do other politicians fall over themselves to give this man (Sanjeev Gupta) so much money?

Kwasi Kwarteng says the Scottish government are very exposed and have given millions to Gupta’s group (including a £7m loan which, the FT reports was transferred elsewhere in GFG).

If someone says they have the magic formula to keep steel jobs, there is a temptation for government involvement, Kwarteng says.

But when Liberty Steel asked for £170m, Kwarteng had concerns about its opacity, and whether the money would stay in the UK, so he turned it down. Other politicians should learn those lessons, he adds.

Kwarteng: We didn’t know BoE concerns about Wyelands Bank

Conservative MP Richard Fuller probes Kwasi Kwarteng about the Bank of England’s concerns over Sanjeev Gupta’s Wyeland’s Bank.

Q: Yesterday, the Bank of England governor said it began its first investigation into Wyelands in Q1 2019. GFG bought the UK arm of Nigerian bank Diamond in April 2019 – why was that permitted?

Business secretary Kwarteng says that if it’s a secret investigation, it won’t be widely known, so the bank can keep operating.

It’s easy with hindsight to say why didn’t we do this, or that, but at the time none of these concerns were being made public, he insists.

Q: Will the UK steel assets being sold by GFG Alliance actually let it repay Credit Suisse the £1.2bn it owes in full, and complete the refinancing of its operations?

Kwarteng says it depends on the terms of the loan. It may not be due immediately, and in any case it could be restructured to be repaid over a longer time. The government are monitoring the situation very closely.

Paul Kelso
(@pkelso)

.@KwasiKwarteng defends Covid loans made to Gupta bank Wyelands, subsequently subject of concerns at @bankofengland: “When these loans were made there were not concerns about this particular bank… the British Business Bank was under a lot of pressure distribute loans”

May 25, 2021

Q: Are there any lessons for the British Business Bank to learn from the loans approved to Liberty Steel?

Kwasi Kwarteng says there are. He says the government wanted to keep liquidity going, and businesses going, by accrediting firms so they could borrow from banks to keep afloat through the crisis.

Kwarteng repeats that the Bank of England now has concerns about Wyelands Bank which it didn’t have last year (but again, BoE governor Bailey told MPs yesterday that concerns first emerged in late 2018….).

Kwarteng: Vindicated over turning down Liberty Steel’s £170m bailout

Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is testifying to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on its inquiry into the Liberty Steel crisis, and the future of UK steel.

BEIS are investigating why the steel industry moves from crisis to crisis, and also the role of collapsed supply chain finance firm Greensill Capital in the crisis at Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance.

Q: GFG said yesterday they are planning to sell Liberty Steel assets in Yorkshire and the West Midlands. They’ve had multiple owners in the past, so how do we ensure that a future owner doesn’t end up having to close or sell them again?

Kwarteng says he wants the UK steel industry to focus on a new decarbonisation strategy. That’s why he’s brought back the UK Steel council – so government and industry can work together towards net zero. This will help stabilise the situation.

Q: The Governor of the Bank of England told the Treasury Committee yesterday that Sanjeev Gupta’s Wyelands Bank was under investigation by the Prudential Regulation Authority, the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud office — yet £46m of taxpayer-backed Covid loans were provided to GFG Alliance. How did that happen?

Kwarteng says there weren’t concerns about this particular bank when the British Business Bank was disbursing loans, early in the pandemic.

[BoE governor Andrew Bailey told MPs that the PRA notified the NCA in October or November 2019, with the SFO then notified in February 2020]

Andy Verity
(@andyverity)

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has just revealed that the Bank’s Prudential Regulatory Authority notified the National Crime Agency of concerns about Sanjeev Gupta’s Wyelands Bank in the autumn of 2019 and the Serious Fraud Office in February 2020.

May 24, 2021

Kwarteng adds that these concerns over GFG Alliance are why he didn’t give a £170m bailout to Liberty Steel when they asked for help:


It was this opacity over their corporate governance, this difficulty to understand the actual full nature of their businesses, that prevented me and my officials from giving them taxpayers’ money.

Dare I say it, we were vindicated in our approach.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee
(@CommonsBEIS)

Today at 10:30am we’re looking into Liberty Steel & the future of the UK steel industry, with questions to:

Panel 1: @KwasiKwarteng

Panel 2: @worldsteel, @UKSteel__ , @CommunityUnion, @rozbulleid, @MrChrisMcDonald.

📺 https://t.co/BAXznyVPxw

📰 https://t.co/viQAvj5T0K

May 25, 2021

The slump in UK-EU goods trade this year shows the impact of Brexit, says John Springford of the Centre for European Reform:

John Springford
(@JohnSpringford)

The ONS: trade in goods with the EU down 23% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the first quarter of 2018.

That accords with my estimate – Brexit has reduce total UK trade by 11% (both with EU and the rest of the world). https://t.co/CYPrlKdVPm pic.twitter.com/h0cSfAdTTs

May 25, 2021

Political scientist Nicolai von Ondarza says the difference with non-EU goods trade is ‘striking’:

Nicolai von Ondarza
(@NvOndarza)

New @ons trade data is out. First quarter after the end of the #Brexit transition trade with the EU is down 23.1%, with the rest of the world only 0.8%. It will always be debated how much of this is due to Brexit or Covid, but the difference is strikinghttps://t.co/b10MDGFUGa pic.twitter.com/JXEhsh79Kk

May 25, 2021

David Henig, head of UK Trade Forum, says it shows that, as predicted, creating new trade barriers reduces trade:

David Henig
(@DavidHenigUK)

All entirely predictable and predicted except by those whose self professed love of free trade doesn’t include the EU. Increased trade barriers decrease trade. https://t.co/ACk36g0zRa pic.twitter.com/VKjBQZKWQG

May 25, 2021

UK goods trade with EU falls below rest of world

The UK’s total trade in goods with the European Union has fallen below its trade with the rest of the world, following Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Total trade in goods with EU countries fell by over 23% in January-March 2021, compared to the same period in 2018, while goods trade with non-EU countries only declined by 0.8%, a new report from the Office for National Statistic shows.

And exports to Ireland saw the greatest proportionate fall out of the UK’s top exporting partners after the EU transition period, the ONS adds.

The ONS used 2018’s data to provide a stable comparison before the Brexit transition period began.

And it shows a clear plunge in trade with the EU… although the stats body says it is too early to judge the impact of the transition period, due to the economic disruption of the pandemic.

In the last quarter alone, the UK’s total trade in goods with EU countries decreased by 20.3%, but only fell 0.4% with the rest of the world, as this chart shows:



UK trade data with rest of world, Q1 2021

UK trade data with rest of world Photograph: ONS

The ONS says bilateral stockpiling may have boosted UK-EU trade in the last quarter of 2020 as firms on both sides of the channel prepared for the end of the transition deal (and the threat of a no-deal Brexit).

The ONS also points out that the number of businesses reporting that the end of the EU transition period was their main importing or exporting challenge has risen this year.



UK trade survey: the proportion of firms reporting trade problems due to Brexit increased in 2021

Photograph: ONS

Exports of goods to Ireland almost halved in January after the withdrawal agreement ended, the report flags:



UK exports to Ireland

UK exports to Ireland Photograph: ONS

The report also found that:

  • Imports from Germany have declined since April 2019, coinciding with increased uncertainty around EU exit and, later in 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • The UK has imported more goods from China than from any other country since Quarter 2 (April to June) 2020.
  • The early impact of the pandemic seen in Quarter 1 2020 disproportionately affected exports to the United States; decreases in exports to the United States in Quarter 1 2021 are aligned with decreases seen across non-EU countries.

The ONS adds:


We have seen trade with non-EU countries overtake trade with EU countries for the first time in Quarter 1 2021. However, trade was already at depressed levels because of the ongoing pandemic and recession.

It is therefore too early to assess the extent to which the transition period reflects short-term trade disruption or longer-term supply chain adjustments.

Andy Bruce
(@BruceReuters)

The impacts of EU exit and the coronavirus on UK trade in goods – from @ONS

Conclusion?

🤷‍♀️

“too early to assess”https://t.co/B2myoxrwt8 pic.twitter.com/QtA8Bveaun

May 25, 2021

Updated

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Politics

Democrats’ domestic agenda faces setbacks by Republican obstructionism

democrats’-domestic-agenda-faces-setbacks-by-republican-obstructionism

Joe Biden’s far-reaching domestic agenda in the US is facing serious setbacks on a range of issues as the political quagmire of a tightly contested Senate is seeing Democratic ambitions sharply curtailed in the face of Republican obstruction.

On a number of key fronts such as pushing election reform and voting rights, efforts to curb gun control and to moving forwards on LGBTQ civil rights, there has been an effective push back by Republicans – and a handful of conservative Democrats – that is forcing Biden and the wider Democratic party on to the back foot.

The Senate, whom critics deride as an increasingly unrepresentative body that gives undue influence to smaller, less diverse Republican-run states, is scheduled to vote Tuesday on For the People Act, the voting rights bill that’s certain to be defeated having won no support from Republicans.

Republicans are expected to run down the clock – a controversial tactical rule known as a filibuster – on the package that requires lawmakers to reach a 60-vote threshold.

On Sunday, Ohio Republican senator Rob Portman shot down amendments proposed by West Virginia’s conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, whose rejection of the initial bill all-but scuttled the Democrats’ project. Portman described the planned legislation as a “federal takeover of our election system”.

“The bottom line is we should make it easy to vote in this country. We should also make it hard to cheat,” Portman said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Again, I appreciate [Manchin is] trying to find that middle ground, and, who knows, maybe something can be done.”

By forcing Republicans to carry out their filibuster and making their opposition clear and public to a law seen as defending the voting rights of communities of color. Democrats hope to embarrass the party. But – without destroying the filibuster, which Manchin also opposes – there is little chance of the bill passing.

Senate Democrats will also test calls for unity on LGBTQ civil rights, and another bill – The Equality Act – that is in search of Republican support. Schumer said last month the upper house is “considering” a vote on the bill but has yet to schedule it. Again, Manchin is the lone Democrat hold-out.

The proposed legislation would include sexual orientation and gender identity to the protected classes of the 1964 Civil Rights Act alongside bans on discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin.

Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin, one of two openly gay senators in the 100-member chamber, has said that she is lobbying Republican colleagues but has achieved only “incremental progress”.

Baldwin has said she believes the Senate should “hold off” on a vote while “negotiations are productive” and progress is being made. The Senate is split 50-50 and only in Democratic control thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice-President Kamala Harris.

“There may be a time where there’s an impasse. I’m still trying to find 10 Republicans [to help pass the bill],” said Baldwin.

Republicans resistance to the legislation is focused on protecting the rights of religious institutions that condemn homosexuality and opposition transgender rights in sports. Yet it comes against a backdrop of broad public, business and judicial support on the issue.

Manchin, an anti-abortion Democrat , has said he is “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it”. But he has also said he’ll seek to “build broad bipartisan support and find a viable path forward for these critical protections”.

Nor are Democrats currently likely to find broader opportunities for political unity on infrastructure spending where large-scale Democratic proposals are running into Republican counter-offers of a fraction of the size.

Former Republican presidential adviser Karl Rove told This Week with George Stephanopoulos President Biden faces two paths on infrastructure and both are riddled with obstacles. “[It will be] a bipartisan deal small enough to get Republican support, but not big enough to keep Democrats united, or a go-it-alone and go-for-broke plan that progressives want, with a price tag as high as $6tn that’s likely too big to pass,” Rove said.

Similarly, pending gun control legislation may also be resistant to winning enough support to pass.

As it stands, two House-passed bills to expand background checks on gun buyers have all but stalled out in the Senate. But rather than push legislation that Republicans will reject, Democrats may instead push for a vote on increasing the number of online and gun show sales covered by FBI background checks – a significant retreat on the original proposals.

Senator Chris Murphy, the Democrats’ point person to win Republican support for gun control, said he’s still talking with Republican leaders about “some ideas that would involve the expansion of background checks without getting all the way to universal”.

Asked if a bill on gun show checks would be favored by Republicans, two senators involved in discussions, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, offered a cool take on that likelihood.

“We’ll see if it goes anywhere,” Graham told Politico.

Toomey, who is set to retire next year, said: “Honestly, it’s unclear at this point.”

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Politics

Florida Pride parade crash that killed one appears unintentional, officials say

florida-pride-parade-crash-that-killed-one-appears-unintentional,-officials-say

A member of a men’s chorus group unintentionally slammed into fellow chorists at the start of a Pride parade in South Florida, killing one member of the group and seriously injuring another, the group’s director said Sunday.

The statement clarified initial speculation that it was a hate crime directed at the gay community.

The Wilton Manors vice mayor, Paul Rolli, and the Fort Lauderdale mayor, Dean Trantalis, said the early investigation shows it was an accident. The driver was taken into custody, but it was unclear whether he had been charged.

“The early investigation now indicates it looks like it was a tragic accident, but nobody’s saying finally what it is,” Rolli told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

The driver and the victims were a part of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus family, a small 25-member group of mostly older men.

“Our fellow Chorus members were those injured and the driver is also a part of the Chorus family. To my knowledge, this was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” President Justin Knight said in a statement Sunday, calling it “an unfortunate accident”.

Fort Lauderdale police detective Ali Adamson told reporters Saturday that authorities were investigating all possibilities from the collision. The police department did not immediately respond to additional questions about the investigation Sunday.

Trantalis, who is Fort Lauderdale’s first openly gay mayor, initially told reporters the act was deliberate, adding to the confusion Saturday night.

“It terrorized me and all around me … I feared it could be intentional based on what I saw from mere feet away,” he said in a Twitter statement Sunday. “As the facts continue to be pieced together, a picture is emerging of an accident in which a truck careened out of control.”

Wilton Manors is a tight-knit community near Fort Lauderdale with a vibrant downtown filled with cute shops, where people line up for Rosie’s famous hamburgers or to gossip and drink at Georgie’s Alibi Monkey Bar.

Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade.

In a statement Saturday night, Wasserman Schultz said she was safe but “deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost”.

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Politics

Covid ‘remains a serious and deadly threat’ for unvaccinated people, Biden says – live

covid-‘remains-a-serious-and-deadly-threat’-for-unvaccinated-people,-biden-says-–-live

Democratic congressman Ted Lieu accused the US Conference of Catholic Bishops of hypocrisy for taking steps toward rebuking Catholic politicians who receive Communion and support abortion rights.

“Dear @USCCB: I’m Catholic and you are hypocrites,” Lieu said on Twitter.

Referring to Donald Trump’s attorney general, Lieu added, “You did not tell Bill Barr, a Catholic, not to take communion when he expanded killing human beings with the death penalty. You are being nakedly partisan and you should be ashamed. Another reason you are losing membership.”

Ted Lieu
(@tedlieu)

Dear @USCCB: I’m Catholic and you are hypocrites. You did not tell Bill Barr, a Catholic, not to take communion when he expanded killing human beings with the death penalty. You are being nakedly partisan and you should be ashamed. Another reason you are losing membership. https://t.co/kpIYRolnHD

June 18, 2021

Lieu also joined dozens of other Catholic Democrats in Congress in signing on to a “statement of principles” urging the USCCB not to continue with their efforts.

“We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents,” the statement says.

“The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.”

Joe Biden has arrived in his home state of Delaware, where he will be spending the weekend. The president did not take any questions from reporters as he boarded and later exited Marine One.

The Hill
(@thehill)

President Biden arrives in New Castle, Delaware pic.twitter.com/Dhx3wsqVWM

June 18, 2021

Jill Biden will travel to Jackson, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday to visit coronavirus vaccination sites and encourage more Americans to get vaccinated.

The first lady, the vice-president and the second gentleman have recently been participating in a nationwide tour to areas with lower vaccination rates to encourage people to get their shots.

Michael LaRosa
(@MichaelLaRosa46)

🚨 HAPPENING TUESDAY: @FLOTUS ✈️ heads to Jackson, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee pic.twitter.com/rsheXMmMLf

June 18, 2021

Speaking at the historically Black Clark Atlanta University in Georgia today, Kamala Harris urged Americans to reject misinformation about the vaccines and protect themselves against the virus.

“Let’s recognize that we have power in every moment of crisis, including this one,” Harris said.

David Smith

Mike Pence, the former US vice-president, has been heckled as a “traitor” for his refusal to overturn last year’s election result during a speech to a gathering of religious conservatives.

Pence, who is widely seen as laying the groundwork for a White House run in 2024, had entered an auditorium in Orlando, Florida to a standing ovation on Friday. But a small group began shouted abuse including “traitor!” as he began a 28-minute speech. The dissenters were quickly escorted out by police.

Earlier, in a corridor outside the ballroom, an attendee named Rick Hurley, wearing a red “Make America great again” cap, also vented his frustration over Pence’s role in certifying Donald Trump’s defeat on 6 January amid false claims of voter fraud.

“We need to start fighting!” Hurley shouted at anyone who would listen. “We need to stop being so damned nice. What the hell’s going on? Why is Pence coming today? Donald Trump has his pen in his back still.”

Before being taken aside by police, he also remarked: “I’m ready to fight. I’m going to boo him off stage. I’ll take the bullet. I’ll walk to the front of the stage and look him in the eye and and say, ‘What are you doing here?’

In an interview, Hurley said he had been at the US Capitol on 6 January. “I want to know why Pence is here today.” he said. “He stabbed Donald Trump in the back and took the coins like Judas.”

Dozens of Catholic Democrats in Congress signed on to a letter denouncing the efforts to rebuke lawmakers who receive Communion and support abortion rights.

“We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents,” the letter says.

“The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.”

Rosa DeLauro
(@rosadelauro)

As Catholic Democrats, we are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the oppressed, protecting the least among us & ensuring that all are given opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country. pic.twitter.com/nZHeUVfP2j

June 18, 2021

The lawmakers who signed the letter — including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joaquin Castro and Ted Lieu — also made a point to list some of the Republican policies that they say contradict Catholic teachings.

“No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the Church teachings, including supporting the death penalty, separating migrant children from their parents, denying asylum to those seeking safety in the United States, limiting assistance for the hungry and food insecure, and denying rights and dignity to immigrants,” the letter says.

The lawmakers encouraged the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to not continue with its efforts, saying, “We solemnly urge you to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue.”

‘I don’t think that’s going to happen,’ Biden says of efforts to block him from receiving Communion

Joe Biden took a couple questions from reporters after concluding his prepared remarks on his administration’s coronavirus vaccination efforts.

One reporter asked the president for his response to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops taking steps toward rebuking Catholic politicians, such as Biden, who receive Communion and support abortion rights.

“That’s a private matter, and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Biden replied.

The AP has more details on the USCCB’s decision:


U.S. Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved the drafting of a ‘teaching document’ that many of them hope will rebuke Catholic politicians, including [Biden], for receiving Communion despite their support for abortion rights.

The result of the vote — 168 in favor and 55 against — was announced Friday near the end of a three-day meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that was held virtually.

The bishops had cast their votes privately on Thursday after nearly three hours of impassioned debate.

Supporters of the measure said a strong rebuke of Biden was needed because of his recent actions protecting and expanding abortion access, while opponents warned that such action would portray the bishops as a partisan force during a time of bitter political divisions across the country.

Covid ‘remains a serious and deadly threat’ for unvaccinated people, Biden says

Joe Biden has just finished delivering remarks on reaching 300 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered since he took office in January.

The president praised the “whole of government response” that has allowed millions of Americans to get vaccinated. As of today, 65% of American adults have received at least one vaccine shot.

“Above all, we got here because of the American people,” Biden said.

ABC News
(@ABC)

Pres. Biden: “We’ve built equity into the heart of our vaccination program from day one.” https://t.co/xY8G8YiI04 pic.twitter.com/4HBMqXSsfN

June 18, 2021

The president also touted his administration’s efforts to get Americans of color vaccinated, while acknowledging more works needs to be done in that regard.

“We’ve built equity into the heart of our vaccination program from day one,” Biden said. “The more we close the racial gap in vaccination rates, the more lives we’ll save.”

While looking ahead to the country’s “summer of joy” as pandemic-related restrictions are relaxed, Biden emphasized that coronavirus “remains a serious and deadly threat” for unvaccinated Americans.

The president also warned that the delta variant of the virus could pose an even worse threat to unvaccinated people. Speaking directly to unvaccinated Americans, Biden said, “Act. Act now.”

Updated

As Joe Biden prepares to deliver an update on US vaccination efforts, Kamala Harris is in Atlanta, Georgia, to encourage more Americans to get their shots.

Speaking at the historically Black Clark Atlanta University this afternoon, Harris denounced misinformation about the coronavirus vaccines, saying, “Let’s arm ourselves with the truth.”

CBS News
(@CBSNews)

Harris speaks about the dramatic drops in COVID infections and deaths over the past five months: “Let’s recognize that we have power in every moment of crisis, including this one…When the American people come together, in the spirit of community, we can do anything. Anything.” pic.twitter.com/SIJlFEh57Z

June 18, 2021

The vice-president also noted that most of the Americans currently hospitalized with coronavirus are unvaccinated.

“Let’s recognize that we have power in every moment of crisis, including this one,” Harris said. “When the American people come together, in the spirit of community, we can do anything. Anything.”

As we prepare for Joe Biden’s remarks on the ongoing coronavirus vaccination efforts in the US, some reporters shared photos of a rainbow-lit hallway at the White House.

The colorful lights appear to be an homage to LGBTQ+ Pride month, which began on June 1.

darlene superville
(@dsupervilleap)

White House hallway lit up in rainbow colors for Pride Month. pic.twitter.com/lNFysOB31z

June 18, 2021

300 million vaccine shots administered since Biden took office, White House announces

More than 300 coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered since Joe Biden took office in January, the White House announced in a press release.

“Today, thanks to the President’s COVID-19 strategy, the virus is in retreat. 300 million shots have been administered in 150 days, COVID-19 cases and deaths have decreased by more than 90 percent, and the economy is experiencing the strongest rebound in decades,” the White House said.

“The results are clear: America is starting to look like America again, and entering a summer of joy and freedom.”



A man receives a shot at the FEMA-supported COVID-19 vaccination site at Valencia State College in Orlando.

A man receives a shot at the FEMA-supported COVID-19 vaccination site at Valencia State College in Orlando. Photograph: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

The White House noted that 65% of American adults have now received at least one vaccine dose, and 55% of adults in the US are fully vaccinated. Additionally, 15 states and DC have gotten more than 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated.

However, it is still unclear whether the US will hit Biden’s goal of having 70% of all American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4, when America celebrates its Independence Day.

Biden is expected to deliver an update on his administration’s vaccination efforts at any moment, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has endorsed a Republican Senate candidate running against Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska who is up for reelection next year.

“Lisa Murkowski is bad for Alaska,” Trump said in a new statement. “Her vote to confirm Biden’s Interior Secretary was a vote to kill long sought for, and approved, ANWR, and Alaska jobs. Murkowski has got to go! Kelly Tshibaka is the candidate who can beat Murkowski—and she will.”

The endorsement is not a surprise, given that the former president has frequently criticized Murkowski since she voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial earlier this year.

Trump said of Tshibaka, “Kelly is a fighter who stands for Alaska values and America First. … Kelly is a powerful supporter of the Second Amendment and JOBS! I look forward to campaigning in Alaska for Kelly Tshibaka. She has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”

According to CNN, Tshibaka has previously written in support of an “ex-gay” Christian organization that promoted conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Mike Pence heckled at conservative Christian conference

Victoria Bekiempis

Former Vice President Mike Pence was heckled during his speech at a conservative Christian conference on Friday, with some attendees shouting “traitor!” according to Forbes.

“It is great to be back with so many patriots, dedicated to faith and freedom and the road to the majority,” Pence remarked.

Pence, speaking at the Trump supporter-filled Faith & Freedom symposium, was cheered when he took the stage, NBC News journalist Ali Vitali said. Less than thirty seconds into his address, however, yelling emerged from the audience.

Andrew Solender
(@AndrewSolender)

Pence gets drowned out by hecklers at the Faith & Freedom Coalition summit, some of whom appear to be chanting “traitor!” pic.twitter.com/pAQxavsK3O

June 18, 2021

One woman who yelled “traitor!” was escorted out, Vitali reported.

Although Pence served Trump dutifully, some of the ex-president’s supporters turned on him. On 6 January, a mob of Trump’s supporters breached the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.

Some insurrectionists shouted “hang Mike Pence,” shortly after Trump remarked that he would feel “very disappointed” if his then-deputy didn’t overturn the results, per Forbes.

Updated

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Republicans pushed back against Joe Manchin’s compromise proposal on a voting rights bill, which the Democratic senator laid out in a memo to colleagues this week. Manchin’s bill would include Republican demands like requiring voter ID and allowing voter purges, but Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said the proposal was still “an assault on the fundamental idea that states, not the federal government, should decide how to run their own elections”.
  • Joe Biden released a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in America. Biden signed a bill yesterday to make Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, a federal holiday. “Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power,” Biden said in his proclamation. “On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice.”
  • Kamala Harris is visiting Atlanta, Georgia, as part of her tour to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated against coronavirus. Visiting a pop-up vaccination site at Ebenezer Baptist Church this afternoon, the vice-president thanked those present for getting their shots. “What you are doing truly is about leadership. These vaccines are safe and effective. It will save your life and lives of people that you love,” Harris said.

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

Joe Biden is nominating former congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small to a senior role in the department of agriculture, the White House just announced in a statement.

If confirmed by the Senate, Torres Small, who lost her reelection bid last year, would become undersecretary of rural development at the USDA.

“In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, Representative Torres Small kept a rural hospital from closing its doors, improved constituent access to healthcare over the phone, and helped secure tens of millions of dollars for broadband in New Mexico through USDA’s ReConnect Program,” the White House said.

“Throughout her career, Torres Small has employed her experience organizing in vulnerable, rural communities to achieve lasting investments that combat persistent poverty.”

Torres Small served only one term in the House before being defeated in November by Republican Yvette Herrell, who won the race in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District by about 7 points.

Kamala Harris toured the pop-up vaccination site at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and she thanked those who are getting their shots today.

“What you are doing truly is about leadership. These vaccines are safe and effective. It will save your life and lives of people that you love,” the vice-president said, per a press pool report. “We’re here to say thank you.”

Harris toured the vaccination site with several Democratic lawmakers, including Georgia senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

After Harris made her remarks to the newly vaccinated people at the site, Warnock joked, “The vice-president preached a good sermon today. Amen!”

Harris visits Georgia to encourage coronavirus vaccinations

Kamala Harris has arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, where she will continue her tour of southern states to encourage more Americans to get their coronavirus vaccines.



Kamala Harris exits Air Force Two, Friday, June 18, 2021, on arrival to Atlanta.

Kamala Harris exits Air Force Two, Friday, June 18, 2021, on arrival to Atlanta. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Harris is scheduled to tour a pop-up vaccination site at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr once preached, and then deliver remarks at a vaccination mobilization event at Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college.

The vice-president will also later participate in a conversation on voting rights with community leaders at the university.

As part of Joe Biden’s “month of action” to increase vaccination rates, Harris kicked off her southern tour with a trip to South Carolina earlier this week.

“Vaccination gives protection,” Harris said in Greenville. “This act, in a way, is a projection of love thy neighbor.”

Updated

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