Newswire: Kamala Harris becomes first woman with presidential powers in U.S. history as Biden gets colonoscopy

President Biden with Vice-President Harris

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Call her Madam President. Vice President Kamala Harris received presidential powers on Friday to occupy the commander-in-chief role while President Joe Biden underwent a colonoscopy.

Because the procedure requires anesthesia, the transfer of powers was deemed necessary.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki remarked that the president underwent the procedure at Walter Reed Medical Center as part of his yearly health checkup.

She said the transfer of power isn’t unusual nor unprecedented.“As was the case when President George W. Bush had the same procedure in 2002 and 2007, and following the process set out in the Constitution, President Biden will transfer power to the Vice President for the brief period of time when he is under anesthesia,” Psaki insisted. “The Vice President will work from her office in the West Wing during this time.”

The press secretary for former President Donald Trump, Stephanie Grisham, claimed that Trump refused anesthesia before a colonoscopy in 2019 because he chaffed at turning over power to Vice President Mike Pence.

The United States has never had a woman president, and Harris’ technically didn’t become president but obtained the powers of the presidency. It was only expected to last for not more than one hour.

President Biden selected Harris to serve as vice president after a lifetime of public service.
Harris served as San Francisco’s district attorney, California’s attorney general, and in the U.S. Senate.

A graduate of Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of Law, Harris became the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president.

Newswire: Medicaid issues, not Medicare’s, get fixes in Biden budget;

By Associated Press
Medicaid issues are turning up as winners in President Joe Biden’s social agenda framework even as divisions force Democrats to hit pause on far-reaching improvements to Medicare.
The budget blueprint Biden released Thursday would fulfill a campaign promise to help poor people locked out of Medicaid expansion across the South due to partisan battles, and it would provide low-income seniors and disabled people with more options to stay out of nursing homes by getting support in their own homes. It also calls for 12 months of Medicaid coverage after childbirth for low-income mothers, seen as a major step to address national shortcomings in maternal health that fall disproportionately on Black women.
No Consensus on Lower Prescription Drug Prices

But with Medicare, Democrats were unable to reach consensus on prescription drug price negotiations. Polls show broad bipartisan support for authorizing Medicare to negotiate lower prices, yet a handful of Democratic lawmakers—enough to block the bill—echo pharmaceutical industry arguments that it would dampen investment that drives innovation. Advocacy groups are voicing outrage over the omission, with AARP calling it “a monumental mistake.” Some Democratic lawmakers say they haven’t given up yet.
The immediate consequence: Without expected savings from lower drug prices, Medicare dental coverage for seniors is on hold, as is vision coverage. The Biden framework does call for covering hearing aids, far less costly. Also on hold is a long-sought limit on out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients.
While Medicare has traditionally been politically favored, Medicaid was long regarded as the stepchild of health care programs because of its past ties to welfare. Just a few years ago, former President Donald Trump and a Republican-led Congress unsuccessfully tried to slap a funding limit on the federal-state program.
In that battle, “many people realized the importance of Medicaid for their families and their communities,” said Judy Solomon of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income people. “I think there was a new appreciation of Medicaid, and we are seeing that.”
As Medicaid grew to cover more than 80 million people, nearly 1 in 4 Americans, it became politically central for Democrats. Biden’s Medicaid-related provisions have a strong racial justice dimension, since many of the people who would benefit from access to health insurance in the South or expanded coverage for new mothers across the land are Black or Hispanic.
Expanding Medicaid has been the top policy priority for Democrats in Deep South states for years, citing the poverty and poor health that plagues much of the region. The decision by some Republican-led states to reject expansion of Medicaid under the Obama health law meant that 2 million poor people were essentially locked out of coverage in a dozen states, and another 2 million unable to afford even subsidized plans. Texas, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among the Medicaid hold-outs.
Georgia Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff campaigned on closing the Medicaid coverage gap, and it was their election that put the Senate in Democratic hands this year. Warnock made getting a Medicaid fix his signature issue.

Back to Obamacare
“Georgians showed up in historic numbers to change the shape of our federal government, and many did so with the hope that Washington would finally close the circle on the promise of the Affordable Care Act [otherwise known as Obamacare] and make health care coverage accessible to the hundreds of thousands of Georgians who are currently uninsured,” Warnock, the state’s first Black U.S. senator, said in a statement Thursday.
Delivering a big achievement is most urgent for the freshman, as he faces reelection next year in a quest for a full six-year term. Multiple Republican opponents including former football great Herschel Walker are vying to face him. Warnock argues that it’s unfair that Georgians can’t access the federally subsidized care available to residents of 38 other states that expanded Medicaid, calling it “a matter of life and death.”
Under the Biden blueprint eligible uninsured people in states that have not expanded Medicaid could get subsidized private coverage through HealthCare.gov at no cost to them. The fix is only funded for four years, a budgetary gimmick intended to make the official cost estimates appear lower. Biden would also extend through 2025 more generous financial assistance that’s already being provided for consumers who buy “Obamacare” plans.
Another major element of Biden’s framework would allocate $150 billion through Medicaid for home- and community-based care for seniors and disabled people. That’s less than half the money Biden originally had sought for his long-term care plan, but it will help reduce waiting lists for services while also improving wages and benefits for home health aides.
The plan “marks a historic shift in how our country cares for people with disabilities and older Americans,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Getting this crucial care won’t just be for the lucky few who can get off a wait list.”
About 4 million people receive home and community-based services, which are less expensive than nursing home care. An estimated 800,000 people are on waiting lists for such services.
The coronavirus pandemic underscored the importance of a viable home care option for elders, as nursing homes became deadly incubators for COVID-19.
In a coda of sorts, the Biden framework also provides permanent funding for Medicaid in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico. And it would permanently reauthorize the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, avoiding periodic nail-biting over coverage for nearly 10 million kids.

Newswire: Biden defends Afghanistan policy amid mounting criticism

Taliban fighters enter Kabul, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday defended his administration’s decision to continue with the U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan, blaming the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military for allowing the Taliban to take over. “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country; the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight,” Biden said. “If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.” Speaking to the American public from the White House, Biden said he stood firmly by his decision and argued that he was faced with a choice to either follow through with the drawdown or escalate the conflict into its third decade and ultimately sacrifice more American lives. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there.” The Taliban seized control of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on Sunday following President Ashraf Ghani’s departure from the country, bringing an abrupt end to the 20-year U.S. effort to restructure the Afghan government and its military. Within hours of the Taliban takeover, chaos erupted at Kabul’s international airport as desperate Afghans raced to flee the country. A harrowing video captured Monday showed Afghans storming the military side of the airport and clinging to a U.S. Air Force plane as it attempted to move down the tarmac. In the video, some people appear to fall to their death as the aircraft takes off. The White House appeared to be caught off guard by the Taliban’s rapid advance. Within the past few days, the U.S. was forced to send additional troops to Afghanistan to help with evacuations. The U.S. Embassy, which the State Department had insisted Thursday would remain open, was fully evacuated by Sunday evening. Over the weekend, Biden chose to stay at the president’s retreat at Camp David. “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden said Monday, insisting that his administration was prepared for all scenarios but that the Afghan government and military were unwilling to defend their own country. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” he said, arguing that if their military was unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, a few more years of U.S. troops on the ground would not have made any difference. As the Taliban took hold of the country, Democrats on Capitol Hill and former Obama administration officials joined Republicans in publicly criticizing Biden’s handling of the situation. While most agreed with the decision to remove troops, they attacked Biden’s failure to help the thousands of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces over the 20-year war effort exit the country before the Taliban took over, and the scramble to evacuate Americans from the country. Responding to criticism from some that the administration should have started to evacuate Afghans and U.S. personnel sooner, Biden said that some Afghans did not want to leave earlier on in hope that it would not have to come to that. The Afghan government also discouraged the U.S. from organizing a mass exodus out of concern that it would trigger a “crisis of confidence,” Biden said. Biden said that the U.S. was taking over air traffic control in Afghanistan to ensure that civilian and military flights could continue. He committed to continuing to help evacuate Afghan allies and vulnerable Afghans and said the U.S. would engage in regional diplomacy and would speak out about human rights, especially for women and girls. Former President Donald Trump negotiated a deal while in office with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. military personnel by May 1 of this year. After he was inaugurated, Biden said the withdrawal would be completed by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. “The events we are seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would have ever delivered a stable, united, secure Afghanistan,” Biden said Monday. “I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference.”

Newswire: Okonjo-Iweala faces first test in fight over generic corona drug patent

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala

Mar. 15, 2021 (GIN) – The first African woman to lead the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is facing her first test of leadership as the leaders of poor and rich nations spar over the rights to generic versions of the Covid-19 vaccine, currently held by the rich nations. In the current debate, over 80 developing countries led by South Africa and India are demanding a waiver of patent rights in order to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor nations. Blocking them are the richer members of the world trade group.  The Western countries include Britain, Switzerland, EU nations and the United States, which have large domestic pharmaceutical industries.  Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian-American economist, became WTO director-general on March 1.   Anna Marriott, health policy advisor for Oxfam International, blasted the rich nations. “(They) are vaccinating at a rate of one person per second yet are siding with a handful of pharmaceutical corporations in protecting their monopolies against the needs of the majority of developing countries who are struggling to administer a single dose,” she charged.  “It is unforgivable that while people are literally fighting for breath, rich country governments continue to block what could be a vital breakthrough in ending this pandemic for everyone in rich and poor countries alike.”  Oxfam is part of The Peoples’ Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of global and national organizations and activists united under a common aim of campaigning for a ‘People’s Vaccine’, backed by past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists.  Amnesty International and Christian Aid called the move by Western nations to prevent generic or other manufacturers making more vaccines in poorer nations “an affront on people’s right to healthcare.”  Western nations maintain that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.  In a press interview, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called the trade talks “vitally important,” but gave ground to the Western countries. “We need to come to some sustainable agreement,” she said. “But for now, I’ve advocated what I’ve called a third way, which is we need to boost manufacturing right away so that we can have increased supplies.”  Former president Donald Trump frequently railed at the WTO, blocking the appointment of new members to a crucial panel that hears appeals in trade disputes. An interim panel was named to replace the appeals body, however, allowing disputes to be heard despite the Trump obstacle.  Talks on patents will continue twice in April before the next trade council meeting June 8-9.     a

Newswire: Mississippi Congressman, Black lawmakers, NAACP file suit in response to Trump’s coup attempt

By Barrington M. Salmon

Congressman Benny Thompson


(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Former President Donald Trump escaped conviction by the US Senate for inciting an insurrection that came close to toppling the government. But the fallout continues.
On Feb. 16, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson and the NAACP filed a lawsuit naming Trump and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, alleging that they violated an 1871 law by conspiring to incite the violent Jan. 6 insurrection that resulted in the deaths of seven people. The purpose of the coup attempt was to thwart certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
“January 6th was one of the most shameful days in our country’s history, and it was instigated by the president himself. His gleeful support of violent White supremacists led to a breach of the Capitol that put my life, and that of my colleagues, in grave danger,” Thompson said in a statement. “It is by the slimmest of luck that the outcome was not deadlier. While the majority of Republicans in the Senate abdicated their responsibility to hold the President accountable, we must hold him accountable for the insurrection that he so blatantly planned.”
The lawsuit details Trump’s pronouncements and assertions before, during, and after the November election that the vote would be stolen. Such provocative rhetoric – though untrue, animated his base – a mélange of white domestic terror groups and other far-right supporters. He told them to come to the District of Columbia on Jan. 6 to stop Congressional lawmakers from certifying the election. And after a rally on the Ellipse, Trump encouraged the mob to march to the Capital and “stop the steal.”
According to the plaintiffs, the insurrection was a coordinated, months-long attempt to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise millions of ballots that were legally cast by African-American voters.
The lawsuit claims that Trump and Giuliani, worked with right-wing groups like the Proud Boys the Oath Keepers and other far-right domestic terror groups to incite the riot in an attempt to prohibit lawmakers in Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win. The plaintiffs say their actions violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era law that protects against violent conspiracies meant to stop Congress from carrying out its Constitutional duties. The law was passed as a counter to widespread Klan intimidation of and violence against Southern members of Congress during and after Reconstruction.
According to House managers, for as long as six hours, rioters battled police. They breached security and overran the building from several entrances, searched for lawmakers, ransacked and desecrated offices, urinated and defecated in and around the building fought with an undermanned police presence using baseball bats, flagpoles, fire extinguishers police shields, metal bars and other objects. More than 140 DC and Capitol Police officers sustained an assortment of injuries and two others committed suicide after the incident. Capital Police leadership is said to have ignored warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the House and Senate might be overrun by pro-Trump supporters.
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. by the NAACP and civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll on behalf of Congressman Thompson. Other members of Congress, including Representatives Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), have indicated that they intend to join the litigation as plaintiffs shortly.
The NAACP is representing Thompson, officials said because “the events on January 6th were just one more attempt by Donald Trump and his allies to make sure that African-American voters were disenfranchised – this time, by trying to stop members of Congress from doing their job and certifying the election results.”
“Donald Trump needs to be held accountable for deliberately inciting and colluding with white supremacists to stage a coup, in his continuing efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association of Colored People. “The insurrection was the culmination of a carefully orchestrated, months-long plan to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of African-American voters who cast valid ballots.”
“Since our founding, the NAACP has gone to the courthouse to put an end to actions that discriminate against African- American voters,” Johnson added. “We are now bringing this case to continue our work to protect our democracy and make sure nothing like what happened on January 6th ever happens again,”
The Senate voted 57-43 to acquit Trump, who was facing his second impeachment in a little more than a year. Only seven Republicans joined the Democratic majority to vote Trump guilty. It is theorized that Republicans fear the wrath of Trump, his base and the 74 million people who voted for him. The plaintiffs case appears to be strengthened by comments made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately after Trump’s acquittal over the weekend.
“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it,” McConnell said at the time. “… January 6th was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government. They use terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of domestic business they did not like. Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the center floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chatted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they’d been fed wild, falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry. He lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceded the riot … (and represent) a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
McConnell said whatever Trump claims he thought might happen a day, whatever right reaction he’s says he meant to produce by that afternoon we know he was watching the same live television as the rest of us: “A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name, these criminals who are carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could.”
“Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the administration. The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No, instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election.”
McConnell voted to acquit Trump, saying he believed the Senate did not have the authority to weigh in because Trump is now a private citizen. Yet while Trump was still in office, McConnell is the one who declined to bring the Senate back after the House voted one article of impeachment for inciting a riot. McConnell did however, denounce Trump’s actions and behavior, saying the ex-president could still face civil or criminal lawsuits.
“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one,” McConnell said. Thompson concurs, saying the events of Jan. 6 were instigated by Trump and “put my life, and that of my colleagues, in grave danger.”
Thompson said in his statement: “While the majority of Republicans in the Senate abdicated their responsibility to hold the president accountable, we must hold him accountable for the insurrection that he so blatantly planned. Failure to do so will only invite this type of authoritarianism for the anti-democratic forces on the far right that are so intent on destroying our country.”