A reporter asked Joe Biden how it would impact US-Russian relations if Alexei Navalny, a critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, died in prison.
“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights,” Biden said.
In an interview with NBC News ahead of his Wednesday summit with Biden, Putin would not guarantee that Navalny would survive his prison sentence.
No surprise here: the first question at Joe Biden’s press conference focused on his upcoming summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin and what he hoped to get out of the meeting.
The US president emphasized that he wanted to see whether there are areas where he and Putin can work together to promote the interests of their countries and the world at large.
But Biden declined to provide many specific details, saying he did not want to negotiate in public with reporters.
Noting he has met Putin before, Biden said of the Russian president, “He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is – as they say when I used to play ball – a worthy adversary.”
Biden expresses ‘rock-solid and unshakable’ commitment to Nato alliance
Joe Biden said he had a “positive and productive meeting” with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, much of which was a one-on-one discussion.
The president expressed confidence that his administration will make “real progress” in improving US-Turkish relations.
Biden also emphasized his loyalty to the Nato alliance, saying, “The US commitment to article five of the Nato treaty is rock-solid and unshakable.”
The US president accused China and Russia of trying to “drive a wedge in our trans-Atlantic solidarity”.
Looking ahead to his Wednesday summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Biden said, “I’m not looking for conflict with Russia but we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities, and we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance.”
Biden holds press conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels
About two and a half hours later than scheduled, Joe Biden is now holding his press conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
The US president opened his remarks by reflecting on his country’s coronavirus death toll, which is expected to soon surpass 600,000.
Biden offered his condolences to the millions of Americans who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, and he urged anyone who has not yet gotten vaccinated to do so as quickly as possible.
“If you’ve not been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Biden said. “We have more work to do to beat this virus, and now’s not the time to let our guard down.”
Secretary of state Antony Blinken and defense secretary Lloyd Austin are now also waiting with reporters in the room where Joe Biden will soon hold his press conference.
The US president was scheduled to start his press conference at the Nato headquarters in Brussels about two and a half hours ago. No sign of him yet, but stay tuned.
Vladimir Putin has refused to give any guarantee that the opposition leader Alexei Navalny will get out of prison alive, saying his continued detention was not his decision and noting the poor state of medical care in Russian jails.
In an extended and testy interview with NBC News before Putin’s Geneva summit with Joe Biden, the Russian president deflected a string of allegations about his government’s role in cyber-attacks on the west. He also fended off questions about his government’s human rights record by making counter-allegations against the US.
Navalny was the victim of poisoning with the Russian-made nerve agent novichok and then jailed for more than two years. He faces further prosecution, suggesting the Kremlin is ready to extend his jail term. His political movement was outlawed last week as part of a wider suppression of opposition groups.
Asked whether he could guarantee that Navalny would be released alive, Putin replied: “Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president. They’re made by the court whether or not to set somebody free.
“As far as the health, all individuals who are in prison, that is something that the administration of the specific prison or penitentiary establishment is responsible for. And there are medical facilities in penitentiaries that are perhaps not in the best condition. And they are the ones whose responsibility it is.”
Update: there is still no sign of Joe Biden in the room where he was supposed to start holding his press conference nearly two hours ago.
The US press pool is still waiting for the president to take reporters’ questions after meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan today on the sidelines of the Nato summit in Brussels.
The blog will have updates whenever Biden does start speaking, so stay tuned.
NSA whistleblower Reality Winner released from prison
The Guardian’s Edward Helmore reports:
Reality Winner, a former intelligence contractor convicted of leaking a report about Russian interference in the US election in 2016, has been released from prison.
Winner’s attorney, Alison Grinter Allen, made the announcement via Twitter, saying the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor had been released into a residential re-entry programme for good behavior.
In a statement, Allen said: “We are relieved and hopeful. Her release is not the result of the pardon or compassionate release process, but rather the time earned through exemplary behavior while incarcerated.”
Allen said Winner was still barred from making public statements, and she and her family had asked for privacy “during the transition process as they work to heal the trauma of incarceration”.
The US press pool has moved into the auditorium where Joe Biden will soon hold his press conference at Nato headquarters in Brussels.
According to the latest pool report, there are at least 100 journalists filling the auditorium seats, which are spaced about three feet apart.
The president is expected to start speaking at any moment, so stay tuned.
The US press pool was finally let in to the room where Joe Biden and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were meeting, after waiting nearly two hours.
Biden was seated at a table with secretary of state Antony Blinken, defense secretary Lloyd Austin and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
“We had a very good meeting,” Biden said of his conversation with Erdoğan.
When a reporter thought he had missed some of what Biden said, he asked the president to repeat himself. “I didn’t say anything,” Biden replied.
The US president is expected to soon hold a press conference, so stay tuned.
Johnson announces four-week delay to Covid lockdown easing in England
Boris Johnson has announced a four-week delay to the final lockdown easing and a speeding up of second vaccine doses, saying the extra time could prevent thousands of unnecessary deaths.
No 10 said the data was now clear that two doses of the vaccine were needed to combat the new Delta variant and said it was right to allow more time to give millions more people second doses. Johnson slashed the interval between the first and second jabs from 12 weeks to eight for the over-40s, a step which has already been taken for older adults.
Hospitalisations could hit the peak of the first wave if step 4 of the roadmap proceeds, according to modelling by the government’s SPI-M committee. The data presented to ministers suggested that because vaccine effectiveness increases significantly after two doses, thousands of deaths could be prevented by delay.
“At some stage we are going to have to live with this virus, as we do with flu, but when we have effective vaccines, and a variant that needs two doses for maximum protection, it is right to allow more time to save lives,” a Downing St spokesman said.
“These are preventable deaths. That’s a very important point – they can be prevented. Because we have the vaccine program. So that’s why it is right to take this approach.”
Today so far
Here’s where the day stands so far:
Joe Biden is now meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the Nato summit in Brussels. US-Turkish relations have been particularly strained in recent months, after Biden became the first American president to officially recognize the genocide of Armenians by Ottoman troops.
The Nato communique warned that the rising power of China presents“systemic challenges to the rules-based international order”. “We remain concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation,” the Nato document says. “We call on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in the space, cyber, and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power.” Biden reportedly pushed for a mention of China in the communique as he met with Nato allies in recent days.
John Demers, the assistant attorney general of the National Security Division, is reportedly leaving the justice department. According to the New York Times, the departure of Demers, who was nominated by Donald Trump, was in the works for months, but his exit comes amid intensified scrutiny of the department because of the records seizure of top Democrats and reporters as part of a leaks investigation.
The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.
Biden meets with Erdoğan on sidelines of Nato summit
Joe Biden is now meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the Nato summit in Brussels.
Erdoğan’s office shared photos from the meeting, although the US press pool has not yet been let in to the room where the two leaders are holding their talks.
The press pool will likely have a chance to shout a few questions at the two presidents when they are let in to the room, and the White House will later release a readout of the meeting.
Joe Biden wants to create international blocs of democratic nations to act as a counterweight to China’s authoritarian system and its fast-growing economic and military might, and the topic was also high on the agenda at the weekend’s G7 meeting.
“There is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges,” Biden said in brief remarks made shortly after his arrival in Brussels for the Nato summit. “We have Russia, which is acting in a way that is not consistent with what we had hoped, and we have China.”
Other countries have highlighted the importance of striking a balance. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, said as he arrived at the gathering: “I think when it comes to China, I don’t think anybody around the table today wants to descend into a new cold war.”
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, said it was important to engage with Beijing “on issues like climate change, arms control”. But, he added, “China’s military buildup, growing influence and coercive behaviour also poses some challenges to our security”.
China presents ‘systemic challenges to the rules-based international order,’ Nato communique says
As expected, the newly released Nato summit communique indicates that leaders view China’s rising power as a security threat.
“China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security. We are concerned by those coercive policies which stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty,” the Nato document says.
“We remain concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation. We call on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in the space, cyber, and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan previewed this language yesterday, telling reporters, “China will feature in the communiqué really in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before.”
Asked about reports that Joe Biden pushed for the mention of China in the communique, Sullivan said, “There is a broad view that China represents a significant challenge to the world’s democracies on a number of different dimensions, and that we need a common agenda that is mostly affirmative but also has elements where we are going to stand up and counter and compete.”
Final victim of Florida condo collapse identified by relative
The final victim of the condo building collapse in Florida has been identified, a relative said Monday, more than a month after the middle-of-the-night catastrophe that ultimately claimed 98 lives.
Estelle Hedaya, an outgoing 54-year-old with a love of travel, was the last victim identified, ending what her relatives described as a torturous four-week wait.
Her younger brother, Ikey Hedaya, confirmed the identification to the Associated Press. The news comes just days after rescuers officially concluded the painstaking and emotionally heavy task of removing layers of dangerous debris and pulling out dozens of bodies.
“She always mentioned God anytime she was struggling with anything,” he said. “She had reached a different level spiritually, which allowed her to excel in all other areas.”
Her brother said he is drawing strength from God, just as he’d seen his sister do in troubling times. A funeral was scheduled for Tuesday.
The site of the 24 June collapse at the oceanside Champlain Towers South has been mostly swept flat, the rubble moved to a Miami warehouse. Although forensic scientists are still at work, including examining the debris at the warehouse, authorities said there are no more bodies to be found where the building once stood.
In the end, crews found no evidence that anyone who was found dead had survived the initial collapse, fire chief Alan Cominsky has said.
Search teams spent weeks battling the hazards of the rubble, including an unstable portion of the building that teetered above, a recurring fire and Florida’s stifling summer heat and thunderstorms. They went through more than 14,000 tons of broken concrete and rebar before finally declaring the mission complete.
Miami-Dade fire rescue’s urban search-and-rescue team pulled away from the site Friday in a convoy of firetrucks and other vehicles, slowly driving to their headquarters. The fire chief saluted their bravery, saying they had worked 12-hour shifts while camping out at the site and also dealing with the heavy emotional burden.
Linda March, a 58 year-old attorney and fellow former New Yorker, was close friends with Hedaya. Oddly the two were among the last three victims to be identified, along with 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova of Canada.
Leah Sutton, who knew Hedaya since birth and considered herself a second mother to her, said she and March were both “forces to be reckoned with”.
“My two beautiful amazing fearless friends saved for last, have to believe there was a reason for them to be last,” she said Monday. “Estelle’s love of God was unbelievable and unwavering.”
The dead included members of the area’s large Orthodox Jewish community, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady, her family and their nanny, along with an entire family of four that included a local salesman, his wife and their two young daughters, four and 11, who were buried in the same coffin.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what will happen at the collapse site. A judge presiding over several lawsuits filed in the collapse aftermath wants the property sold at market rates, which would bring in an estimated $100m or more. Some condo owners want to rebuild, and others say a memorial should be erected to remember the dead.
California and New York City to mandate vaccine for government workers
California and New York City announced Monday that they would require all government employees to get the coronavirus vaccine or face weekly Covid-19 testing, and the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require healthcare workers to receive the shot.
Meanwhile, in a possible sign that increasingly dire health warnings are getting through to more Americans, vaccination rates began to creep up again, offering hope that people who have previously been reluctant to receive the shot may finally be getting inoculated.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all municipal workers – including teachers and police officers – will be required to get vaccinated by mid-September or face weekly Covid-19 testing, making the city one of the largest employers in the US to take such action.
“Let’s be clear about why this is so important: this is about our recovery,” de Blasio said.
California said it will similarly require proof of vaccination or weekly testing for all state workers and healthcare employees starting next month.
The move comes amid a surge in cases in California, which have risen 218% over the last two weeks, while hospitalizations are up 62%, according to New York Times data. In the month since California lifted all Covid safety restrictions for its “grand reopening”, the state capitol has reinstated a mask requirement after several aides contracted Covid-19, and Los Angeles county is again requiring mask-wearing indoors, even for people who are fully vaccinated. The San Francisco Bar Alliance, which represents almost 500 bars, is recommending that members require guests to show proof of vaccination to enter the establishments.
California saw a 16% increase in vaccinations over last week and is one of the country’s most vaccinated states with 77% of adults having received at least one vaccine dose, but there are still plenty of unprotected people to transmit the virus, experts say.
“Primarily, we’re seeing infections in the unvaccinated,” said George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
The VA’s move came on a day when nearly 60 leading medical and healthcare organizations issued a call through the American Medical Association for health care facilities to require their workers to get vaccinated.
“I am doing this because it’s the best way to keep our veterans safe, full stop,” Veterans affairs secretary Denis McDonough told the New York Times.
Elsewhere, St Louis became the second major city to mandate that face masks be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status, joining Los Angeles in re-imposing the orders.
“For those who are vaccinated, this may feel like punishment, punishment for doing the right thing,” St Louis county executive Sam Page, a Democrat, said Monday. “I’ve heard that, and I feel that frustration.”
Dr Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner, applauded the moves but called on President Joe Biden to “lead by example” and impose similar mandates on federal employees and in public venues where the government has jurisdiction, like on planes, trains and government buildings.
She also said all hospitals and nursing homes need to require all employees get vaccinated.
“We need vaccine mandates and vaccine verification,” Wen said. “We’re well past the time for the Biden administration to get on board with this. What we’re doing is not working. Doing more of the same is not the answer here.”
The White House has so far deferred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on masking guidance, which recommends that those who are unvaccinated wear masks indoors. But officials acknowledged over the weekend that they are considering changing that guidance and recommending that the vaccinated also wear masks indoors.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.
Wen, who is also an emergency physician and public professor at George Washington University, said public health experts have been worrying for months about this very scenario.
“We were worried the honor system would not work, the unvaccinated would be behaving as if they’re vaccinated and people would think the pandemic is over,” she said. “That’s precisely what has happened, and it’s incredibly frustrating.”
Dr Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist Yale’s School of Public Health, said the U.S. should not have been caught off guard after watching the Delta variant ravage India in May and then land in the United Kingdom, Israel and other highly vaccinated nations with force last month.
“We have learned multiple times to not take anything for granted with CovidO,” he said.
The US is around 67% immune from Covid-19 when prior infections are factored, but it will need to get closer to 85% to crush the resurgent virus, said Dr Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
“So we need a lot more vaccinations. Or a lot more infections,” he tweeted Sunday.
Jha said the nation has to brace for another rough few months. The disease has killed almost 611,000 people in the US since the pandemic started last year.
Vaccinations ticked up over the weekend, with about 657,000 vaccines reported administered Saturday and nearly 780,000 on Sunday, according to CDC data. The seven-day rolling average on Sunday was about 583,000 vaccinations a day, up from about 525,000 a week prior.
Public health experts on Monday said the uptick in vaccinations is encouraging but warned that it’s far too early to say if the numbers mean that millions of unvaccinated people are finally beginning to overcome their reticence.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the country shot up over the past two weeks, from more than 19,000 on 11 July to nearly 52,000 on 25 July , according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Some prominent conservative and Republican voices that have spent months casting doubt on the vaccination effort have recently started sounding a different tune.
House minority whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, was among the members of the GOP Doctors Caucus who held a press conference at the Capitol late last week imploring their constituents to lay lingering doubts aside.
A week ago, on 19 July, Fox News host Sean Hannity declared: “It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccinations.”
And in Tennessee, the brother of a popular local conservative radio host who had been a vaccine skeptic urged listeners to get vaccinated as his brother was in critical care in the hospital battling Covid-19.
“For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories,’” Mark Valentine said of his brother, Phil Valentine, Thursday on WWTN-FM in Nashville.
Arizona secretary of state tells Trump before election lie rally: get over it
Arizona’s secretary of state had a message for Donald Trump before he appeared in Phoenix on Saturday: “Take your loss and accept it and move on.”
Trump was set to speak at an event organised by Turning Point Action, a conservative group, and called the “Rally to Save Our Elections!”
Republicans in the most populous county in Arizona continue to pursue a controversial audit of ballots in an attempt to prove Trump’s claim that his loss to Joe Biden in the state, and nationally, was caused by widespread voter fraud. It was not.
Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, spoke to CNN on Friday. Asked what she wanted to tell Trump, she said: “Well, I mean, like most grownups, take your loss and accept it and move on … Nothing that’s going on here is going to change the outcome, and, really, this is nothing more than being a sore loser.”
Hobbs also said Trump’s appearance – like support for his lies from local Republican officials, office holders and congressional hopefuls lining up to speak at Saturday’s event – was dangerous.
“The bottom line is it doesn’t matter what he says or does,” she said. “Nothing is going to change the outcome of the 2020 election. But it also doesn’t change how dangerous this is.”
Trump’s lie about electoral fraud stoked the deadly attack on the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January this year. He retains power in the Republican party, which has swung behind him in seeking to obstruct investigations of the assault.
“The bottom line is that Arizonians are tired of being led by conspiracy theorists,” Hobbs said. “They don’t support this fake audit, and they’re ready for leaders who are going to put those partisan games aside and deal with real issues.”
Hobbs is hoping to become governor of Arizona. Midterm elections will also see a key Arizona Senate seat up for grabs again. Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and a prominent campaigner for gun control reform, won the seat on Biden’s coattails last year. But that was to complete a term and he must run again to secure a full six years in the seat.
On Friday, the former president blasted “Rinos”, or “Republicans in Name Only” whom he regards as insufficiently loyal. One GOP Arizona state senator offered a pithy reply.
“If he hadn’t started an insurrection in DC and gotten kicked off here,” Paul Boyer wrote on Twitter, “I could’ve responded directly to him. So there’s that.”
Trump said his remarks would be broadcast by networks including Newsmax and One America News, upstart rightwing operations which have sought to challenge Fox News on the right of the political spectrum.