Biden Delivers Oval Office Remarks on US Avoiding Default

President Joe Biden delivered remarks Friday evening on the Fiscal Responsibility Act, bipartisan legislation achieved following weeks of tough negotiations that suspends the government’s debt limit and avoids a potentially disastrous default. For the first time Biden spoke from the Oval Office, signifying the occasion’s importance. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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US Senate Approves Debt Ceiling Deal 

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday night 63-36 in support of a measure that will allow the United States to continue to pay its bills. The U.S. had been on track to run out of cash in four days. The bipartisan legislation now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.

“Tonight, senators from both parties voted to protect the hard-earned economic progress we have made and prevent a first –ever default by the United States,” Biden said in a statement.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted Wednesday night, with wide support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike, to allow the government to continue to borrow more money over the next year-and-a-half to meet its financial obligations, exceeding the current $31.4 trillion debt limit.

The legislation does not set a new monetary cap, but the borrowing authority would extend to Jan. 2, 2025, two months past next year’s presidential election.

In addition, the legislation calls for maintaining most federal spending at the current level in the fiscal year starting in October, with a 1% increase in the following 12 months.

“The responsible thing for America is to pass it,” one Senate leader, Democrat Dick Durbin, had told reporters.

Both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, supported suspension of the debt limit and called for swift passage of the legislation.

Schumer told the Senate, “Time is a luxury the Senate does not have if we want to prevent default. There is no good reason — none — to bring this process down to the wire. … I hope we see nothing even approaching brinksmanship. The country cannot afford that now.”

The House approved the legislation on a 314-117 vote despite objections by far-right Republican lawmakers who said it did not go far enough to cut spending and from Democratic progressives who said it trimmed too much.

Seventy-one lawmakers from the majority Republican party in the House voted against the bill, as did 46 Democrats.

In a statement following Wednesday’s vote, Biden celebrated the agreement as a “bipartisan compromise.”

“It protects key priorities and accomplishments from the past two years, including historic investments that are creating good jobs across the country,” Biden said. “And, it honors my commitment to safeguard Americans’ health care and protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid [pensions and health care insurance for older Americans and welfare payments for impoverished people]. It protects critical programs that millions of hardworking families, students, and veterans count on.”

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who negotiated the deal with Biden, told reporters that getting the bill passed “wasn’t an easy fight.” He emphasized the budget savings and criticized Democrats who wanted to separate the debate about future government spending from the need to suspend the debt limit so current financial obligations could be met.

“We put the citizens of America first and we didn’t do it by taking the easy way,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t do it by the ways that people did in the past by just lifting [the debt ceiling]. We decided you had to spend less and we achieved that goal.”

McCarthy said he intends to follow Wednesday’s action with more efforts to cut federal spending.

The measure does not raise taxes, nor will it stop the national debt total from continuing to increase, perhaps by another $3 trillion or more over the next year-and-a-half until the next expiration of the debt limit.

Other pieces of the legislation include a reduction in the number of new agents hired by the country’s tax collection agency, a requirement that states return $30 billion in unspent coronavirus pandemic assistance to the federal government and extending from 50 to 54 the upper age bracket for those required to work in order to receive food aid.

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Former New Jersey Governor Christie Expected to Join Republican Presidential Race

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to launch a Republican presidential campaign next week in New Hampshire.

Christie, who also ran in 2016, is planning to make the announcement at a town hall Tuesday evening at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm Christie’s plans.

The timing, which was first reported by Axios, comes after several longtime Christie advisers started a super political action committee to support his expected candidacy.

The Associated Press had previously reported that Christie was expected to enter the race “imminently.”

Christie critical of Trump

Christie has cast himself as the only potential candidate willing to aggressively take on former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the nomination. Christie, a former federal prosecutor, was a longtime friend and adviser to Trump, but broke with Trump over his refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election. Christie has since emerged as a leading and vocal critic of the former president.

Christie, who is currently polling at the bottom of the pack, dropped out of the 2016 presidential race a day after finishing sixth in New Hampshire’s primary.

In addition to Trump, Christie would be joining a GOP field that includes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, and biotech entrepreneur and “anti-woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum is expected to announce his candidacy on June 7, according to two GOP operatives. And former Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to launch a campaign soon.

‘I’m not a paid assassin’

Allies believe that Christie, who has been working as an ABC News analyst, has a unique ability to communicate. They say his candidacy could help prevent a repeat of 2016, when Trump’s rivals largely refrained from directly attacking the New York businessman, wrongly assuming he would implode on his own.

Christie has also said repeatedly that he will not run if he does not see a path to victory. “I’m not a paid assassin,” he recently told Politico.

While Christie is expected to spend much of his time in early-voting New Hampshire, as he did in 2016, advisers believe the path to the nomination runs through Trump, and they envision an unconventional, national campaign for Christie with a focus on garnering media attention and directly engaging with Trump.

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Here’s What’s In, What’s Out of the Debt Limit Bill to Avert US Default

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have been working the phones in an intense push to sell Congress on the 99-page bill that would suspend the nation’s debt limit through 2025 to avoid a federal default while limiting government spending.

The Democratic president and Republican speaker have to win their respective parties’ support for the plan in time to avert a default that would shake the global economy. On Tuesday, lawmakers will begin scrutinizing and debating the legislation, which also includes provisions to fund medical care for veterans, change work requirements for some recipients of government aid, and streamline environmental reviews for controversial pipelines and other energy projects.

The modest deal gives both men wins to tout, with Biden protecting major parts of his agenda from Republican cuts and McCarthy scoring several conservative spending caps and changes to government programs.

McCarthy has pledged that the House will vote on the legislation Wednesday, giving the Senate time to consider it before June 5, the date when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States could default on its debt obligations if lawmakers did not act in time.

But passage of the bill could be a heavy lift. A growing number of hard-line conservatives have already expressed early concerns that the compromise does not cut future deficits enough, while Democrats have been worried about proposed changes to work requirements in programs such as food stamps.

With the details of the deal now released, here’s what’s in and out:

Two-year debt limit, suspension, spending limits

The agreement would keep non-defense spending roughly flat in the 2024 fiscal year and increase it by 1% the following year, as well as suspend the debt limit until January 2025 — past the next presidential election.

For the next fiscal year, the bill matches Biden’s proposed defense budget of $886 billion and allots $704 billion for non-defense spending.

The bill also requires Congress to approve 12 annual spending bills or face a snapback to spending limits from the previous year, which would mean a 1% cut.

The legislation aims to limit federal budget growth to 1% for the next six years, but that provision would not be enforceable starting in 2025.

Overall, the White House estimates that the plan would reduce government spending by at least $1 trillion, but official calculations have not yet been released.

Aid for veterans

The agreement would fully fund medical care for veterans at the levels included in Biden’s proposed 2024 budget blueprint, including a fund dedicated to veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances or environmental hazards. Biden sought $20.3 billion for the toxic exposure fund in his budget.

Unspent COVID-19 money

The agreement would rescind about $30 billion in unspent coronavirus relief money that Congress approved through previous bills. It claws back unobligated money from dozens of federal programs that received aid during the pandemic, including rental assistance, small business loans, and broadband for rural areas.

The legislation protects pandemic funding for veterans’ medical care, housing assistance, the Indian Health Service, and some $5 billion for a program focused on rapidly developing the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

IRS funding

Republicans targeted money that the IRS was allotted last year to crack down on tax fraud. The bill bites into some IRS funding, rescinding $1.4 billion.

The White House has said that the deal also includes an agreement to take $20 billion from the IRS over the next two years and use that money for other non-defense programs.

Work requirements

The agreement would expand work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps — a longtime Republican priority. But the changes are pared down from the House-passed debt ceiling bill.

Work requirements already exist for most able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49. The bill would phase in higher age limits, bringing the maximum age to 54 by 2025. But the provision expires, bringing the maximum age back down to age 49 five years later, in 2030.

Democrats also won some new expanded benefits for veterans, homeless people and young people aging out of foster care. That would also expire in 2030, according to the agreement.

The agreement also would make it slightly harder for states to waive work requirements for SNAP for certain individuals. Current law allows states to issue some exemptions to the work rules on a discretionary basis, but limits how many people can be exempted. The agreement would lower the number of exemptions that a state can issue and curb states’ ability to carry over the number of exemptions they can hand out from month to month.

The agreement would also make changes to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which gives cash aid to families with children. While not going as far as the House bill had proposed, the deal would make adjustments to a credit that allows states to require fewer recipients to work, updating and readjusting the credit to make it harder for states to avoid.

Speeding up energy projects

The deal puts in place changes in the National Environmental Policy Act for the first time in nearly four decades that would designate “a single lead agency” to develop and schedule environmental reviews in hopes of streamlining the process. It also simplifies some of the requirements for environmental reviews, including placing length limitations on environmental assessments and impact statements.

Agencies will be given one year to complete environmental reviews, and projects that are deemed to have complex impacts on the environment will need to be reviewed within two years.

The bill also gives special treatment to the Mountain Valley Pipeline — a West Virginia natural gas pipeline championed by Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito — by approving all its outstanding permit requests.

Student loans

Republicans have long sought to reel back the Biden administration’s efforts to provide student loan relief and aid to millions of borrowers during the coronavirus pandemic. While the GOP proposal to rescind the White House’s plan to waive $10,000 to $20,000 in debt for nearly all borrowers failed to make it into the package, Biden agreed to put an end to the pause on student loan repayment.

The pause in student loan repayments would end in the final days of August.

The fate of Biden’s broader student loan relief, meanwhile, will be decided at the Supreme Court, which is dominated 6-3 by its conservative wing. During oral arguments in the case, several of the justices expressed deep skepticism about the legality of Biden’s plan. A decision is expected before the end of June.

What’s left out?

House Republicans passed legislation last month that would have created new work requirements for some Medicaid recipients, but that was left out of the final agreement. The idea faced stiff opposition from the White House and congressional Democrats, who said it would lead to fewer people able to afford food or health care without actually increasing the number of people in the workforce.

Also absent from the final deal is the GOP proposal to repeal many of the clean energy tax credits Democrats passed in party-line votes last year to boost the production and consumption of clean energy. McCarthy and Republicans have argued that the tax breaks “distort the market and waste taxpayer money.”

The White House has defended the tax credits as resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in private-sector investments, creating thousands of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

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Debt-Ceiling Deal: What’s In and What’s Out of the Agreement to Avert US Default

U.S. President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have reached an agreement in principle on legislation to increase the nation’s borrowing authority and avoid a default.

Negotiators are now racing to finalize the bill’s text. McCarthy said the House will vote on the legislation on Wednesday, giving the Senate time to consider it ahead of the June 5 deadline to avoid a possible default.

While many details are unknown, both sides will be able to point to some victories. But some conservatives expressed early concerns that the deal doesn’t cut future deficits enough, while Democrats have been worried about proposed changes to work requirements in programs such as food stamps.

A look at what’s in and out of the deal, based on what’s known so far:

Two-year debt increase, spending limits

The agreement would keep non-defense spending roughly flat in the 2024 fiscal year and increase it by 1% the following year, as well as provide for a two-year debt-limit increase — past the next presidential election in 2024. That’s according to a source familiar with the deal who provided details on the condition of anonymity.

Veterans care

The agreement will fully fund medical care for veterans at the levels included in Biden’s proposed 2024 budget blueprint, including for a fund dedicated to veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances or environmental hazards. Biden sought $20.3 billion for the toxic exposure fund in his budget.

Work requirements

Republicans had proposed boosting work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents in certain government assistance programs. They said it would bring more people into the workforce, who would then pay taxes and help shore up key entitlement programs, namely Social Security and Medicare.

Democrats had roundly criticized the proposed changes, saying they would lead to fewer people able to afford food or health care without actually increasing job participation.

House Republicans had passed legislation that would create new work requirements for some Medicaid recipients, but that was left out of the final agreement.

However, the agreement would expand some work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. The agreement would raise the age for existing work requirements from 49 to 54, similar to the Republican proposal, but those changes would expire in 2030. And the White House said it would at the same time reduce the number of vulnerable people at all ages who are subject to the requirements

Speeding up energy projects

The deal puts in place changes in the National Environmental Policy Act that will designate “a single lead agency” to develop environmental reviews, in hopes of streamlining the process.

What was left out

Republicans had sought to repeal Biden’s efforts to waive $10,000 to $20,000 in debt for nearly all borrowers who took out student loans. But the provision was a nonstarter for Democrats. The budget agreement keeps Biden’s student loan relief in place, though the Supreme Court will have the ultimate say on the matter.

The Supreme Court is dominated 6-3 by conservatives, and those justices’ questions in oral arguments showed skepticism about the legality of Biden’s student loans plan. A decision is expected before the end of June.

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No Signs of Progress From White House or Republicans in ‘Tough’ Debt Ceiling Talks

Representatives of U.S. President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans ended another round of debt ceiling talks on Tuesday with no signs of progress as the deadline to raise the government’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk default ticked closer.

The two parties remain deeply divided about how to rein in the federal deficit, with Democrats arguing wealthy Americans and businesses should pay more taxes while Republicans want spending cuts.

White House negotiators Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and senior White House adviser Steve Ricchetti met with their Republican counterparts for about two hours. They left without making substantive comments to the media.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the federal government could no longer have enough money to pay all its bills as soon as June 1, which would cause a default that would hammer the U.S. economy and push borrowing costs higher.

The two sides still disagree on spending, and it was not clear when talks would resume, said Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, who chairs the House Finance Committee.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called the talks “incredibly tough.”

“Both sides have to understand that they’re not going to get everything that they want,” Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. “And what we’re trying to get to is a budget that is reasonable, that is bipartisan, that Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate will be able to vote on and agree on.”

Global markets on edge

The lack of clear progress continued to weigh on Wall Street with U.S. stocks sharply lower on Tuesday and global markets on edge.

Democrats want to freeze spending for the 2024 fiscal year that begins in October at the levels adopted in 2023, arguing that would represent a spending cut because agency budgets won’t match inflation. The idea was rejected by Republicans, who want spending cuts.

Biden wants to cut the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes for the oil and pharmaceutical industries. McCarthy said he will not approve tax increases.

McCarthy told reporters on Monday that he expected to talk with Biden daily at least by telephone.

If and when Biden and McCarthy reach a deal, they will still need to sell it to their caucuses in Congress. It could easily take a week to pass a deal through the House and Senate, which would both need to approve the bill before Biden could sign it into law.

‘Why is June 1 the drop dead?’

Hard-line Republicans and progressive Democrats both voiced anger at the idea of compromise.

Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “the vast majority” of the group’s members would oppose any deal that included spending cuts or new work requirements for federal benefit programs for low-income Americans, both of which are major Republican demands.

Some hard-line members of the Republican House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday said they were skeptical of how firm the June 1 deadline is. Treasury has said the U.S. could run short of cash as soon as June 1, or perhaps in the days following.

“Secretary Yellen needs to not only testify, but in writing, she needs to justify her dates that she’s given. Why is June 1 the drop dead?” Republican Representative Ralph Norman said.

Democrat Representative Hakeem Jeffries — the top Democrat in the House — dismissed that skepticism as unfounded.

“The June 1 date is a real one. Secretary Yellen continues to make that clear,” Jeffries told reporters.

Unless Congress raises the debt ceiling and allows the federal government to borrow money to pay its bills, the United States could default on its obligations, potentially tipping the nation into recession and plunging global financial markets into chaos.

Any deal to raise the limit must pass both chambers of Congress, and therefore hinges on bipartisan support. McCarthy’s Republicans control the House 222-213, while Biden’s Democrats hold the Senate 51-49.

Despite the gridlock, the two sides have found some common ground on several areas, including permit reform that will help energy projects move forward.

On Monday, McCarthy said including some permitting reforms in the debt deal would not solve all of the related issues and that talks on further reforms could continue later, declining to address transmission for renewable energy.

The two sides are also discussing clawing back unused COVID-19 relief funds and imposing stricter work requirements on two popular public benefit programs aimed at helping Americans out of poverty.

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South Carolina Republicans Hear Pitches From 2024 Candidates, Reelect State Party Chairman

South Carolina Republicans on Saturday selected Drew McKissick as their chairman for a fourth term at a convention where some of the party’s 2024 presidential hopefuls made pitches to voters in the first-in-the-South primary state. 

McKissick has led the party since 2017 in a state where Republicans hold all statewide-elected positions, all but one U.S. House seat, and control of both legislative chambers. He defeated three challengers. Party officials said in a release that under McKissick’s leadership, “more Republicans than ever before” had won elections. 

Neither of South Carolina’s presidential contenders, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott, attended the gathering in Lexington, a suburb of Columbia, the capital. 

Scott, who entered the race Friday, sent a video that was played for delegates, and a political action committee that backs him sponsored a breakfast for them. 

“The GOP, the great opportunity party, is in fact the dominant party in our great state, because of people just like you,” said Scott. He encouraged activists to come to his formal campaign launch event Monday in North Charleston so they could be “a part of South Carolina — and hopefully American — history.” 

If elected, Scott would be the first Black Republican president. 

Haley, a former governor who kicked off her campaign in February, did not appear in person or via video. She did get a mention from the rostrum when a McKissick rival noted that Haley had resigned as governor before the end of her second term to join the Trump administration as U.N. envoy. 

Several Republicans in race

The Republican Party’s 2024 field is expanding, with Scott, Haley, former President Donald Trump and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson already running. Another hopeful, entrepreneur and “anti-woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy was the sole candidate to address the convention in person. 

In a video, Trump said that “now is the time to complete our mission and finish what we started” and “evict Joe Biden from the White House.” A video from Never Back Down, a super political action committee supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he prepares to enter the race, showcased DeSantis’ background, including his military service and ongoing disputes with the Walt Disney Co., saying the governor has “refused to let Disney push us around.” 

This past week, Disney announced it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development. The decision followed a year of attacks from DeSantis and the Florida Legislature because the company opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. Disney filed a First Amendment lawsuit against DeSantis and other officials last month. 

Top stop

Given its prominent status on the nomination calendar, South Carolina for months has drawn a number of Republican presidential contenders. 

Trump visited in January to roll out his South Carolina leadership team, which includes Governor Henry McMaster and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham. DeSantis made his debut trip last month, drawing hundreds to two events. Former Vice President Mike Pence has come numerous times to a state where support from white evangelical Christians is critical. 

Trump’s support in the state has remained high since his South Carolina primary victory helped propel him to the 2016 nomination. But Tyler J. Corn, who heads up the Greater Spartanburg Young Republicans, said he’s somewhat dubious that those who say they support the former president will vote for him when it comes time to do so next year. 

“I think there’s a lot of people that realistically say they love Donald Trump who probably end up voting for Ron DeSantis, because I think a lot of [them] believe that he’s a proven winner, and the president, they’re a little bit more concerned about that,” Corn said on the sidelines of the convention. “I’ve even heard people say, ‘Well I love Donald Trump, I just don’t love the way he always says things.’ And I haven’t heard that complaint with Ron DeSantis yet.”  

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Head of Taiwanese Legislature Talks Self-Defense in Washington

The head of Taiwan’s legislature visited Washington this week, where he met with top U.S. lawmakers and told audiences that the Taiwanese people are determined to defend themselves should Beijing try to invade.

During a time when the island is under greater political and military pressure from Beijing, You Si-Kun, head of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, met with members of the House committee focused on China, as well as with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi who said they discussed security and democracy.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said the two discussed “opportunities to work toward a tax agreement and expediting military sales to Taiwan.” The United States is expected to move forward soon with sending $500 million worth of weapons aid to Taiwan.

A will to defend itself

Speaking at a Hudson Institute event, You emphasized how the will to defend itself is a part of Taiwan’s DNA and that the country will unite across political party lines should it be invaded.

“Support from friendly nations is critical, given China’s size,” You told VOA in an interview Tuesday. “But the Taiwanese people can be counted on to do everything they can to fight the invaders and preserve their freedom and way of life.”

To make his point, You referenced when Taiwan was ceded to Japan by the Qing court in 1895, which resulted in Japanese occupation of Taiwan that lasted 50 years, until the end of World War II.

You recalled how it took Japanese forces more than five months to pacify the island after it was officially ceded to Tokyo, at a time when Taiwan had no official government, no armed forces, and no international support.

In the decades since, Taiwan has seen waves of migration from mainland China as well as the rise of a democratic government, which You says have strengthened the island’s collective sense of self-defense.

Sunflower protests

He recalled the Sunflower protests in 2014, when Taiwanese youths came out in huge numbers to protest a trade deal between Taiwan and mainland China that they feared would disadvantage Taiwan economically and politically.

“It wasn’t just youths whose ancestors had been in Taiwan for multiple generations that came out to protest, but across the board,” said You.

That solidarity, he said, will happen again should Beijing decide to invade Taiwan, he said, “even while we [people from different political parties] have our disagreements in peacetime.”

China’s intense military maneuvers in and around Taiwan’s airspace and maritime territory in recent months could have at least two aims, You told VOA.

One is to intimidate the population and pin the tension on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in hopes of directing votes toward candidates portrayed as “peace-loving,” he said. “They could also be rehearsing their armed forces, ships and aircraft, especially since they have not fought in an active war for decades,” You added as the second aim.

Before the delegation returned to Taiwan, You and the other legislators also met with Enes Kantor Freedom, the Turkish-American basketball star-turned-advocate of freedom for people not only in his birth country, but around the world, including Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan.

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US Debt Limit Talks Halted Again Amid ‘Real Differences’

Debt limit talks halted again late Friday at the U.S. Capitol shortly after resuming, another sudden turn of events after negotiations had come to an abrupt standstill earlier in the day when Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said it was time to “pause” negotiations, and a White House official acknowledged there are “real differences.”

Top Republican negotiators for McCarthy exited the brief meeting shortly after talks restarted Friday evening. They said there were no further negotiations planned for Friday and they were uncertain on next steps. But a top White House adviser to President Joe Biden said they were hopeful for a resolution. The negotiators are racing to strike a budget deal to resolve the standoff.

“We reengaged, had a very, very candid discussion, talking about where we are, talking about where things need to be, what’s reasonably acceptable,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., a top McCarthy ally leading the talks for his side.

As the White House team left the nighttime session, counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti, who is leading talks for the Democrats, said he was hopeful for an outcome. “We’re going to keep working,” he said.

Biden’s administration is reaching for a deal with Republicans led by McCarthy as the nation careens toward a potentially catastrophic debt default if the government fails to increase the borrowing limit, now at $31 trillion, to keep paying the nation’s bills.

Earlier in the day, McCarthy said resolution to the standoff is “easy,” if only Biden’s team would agree to some spending cuts Republicans are demanding.

The biggest impasse was over the fiscal 2024 top-line budget amount, according to a person briefed on the talks and granted anonymity to discuss them. Democrats staunchly oppose the steep reductions Republicans have put on the table as potentially harmful to Americans.

“We’ve got to get movement by the White House, and we don’t have any movement yet,” McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters at the Capitol. “So, yeah, we’ve got to pause.”

The White House official, who was granted anonymity to talk about the private discussions, had said at that time there are “real differences” between the parties on the budget issues and further “talks will be difficult.”

Wall Street turned lower as negotiations came to a sudden halt, raising worries that the country could edge closer to risking a highly damaging default on U.S. government debt.

The president, who has been in Japan attending the Group of Seven summit, had no immediate comment. Biden had already planned to cut short the rest of his trip, and he is expected to return to Washington on Sunday.

Negotiators met Friday for a third day behind closed doors at the Capitol with hopes of settling on an agreement this weekend before possible House votes next week. They face a looming deadline as soon as June 1, when the Treasury Department has said it will run out of cash to pay the government’s incurred debt.

McCarthy faces pressures from his hard-right flank to cut the strongest deal possible for Republicans, and he risks a threat to his leadership as speaker if he fails to deliver. Many House Republicans are unlikely to accept any deal with the White House.

The internal political dynamics confronting the embattled McCarthy leaves the Democrats skeptical of giving away too much to the Republicans and driving off the Democratic support they will need to pass any compromise through Congress.

Markets had been rising this week on hopes of a deal. But that shifted abruptly Friday after negotiators ended late morning an hour after they had begun.

The S&P 500 went from a gain of 0.3% to a loss of 0.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from a gain of 117 points to a loss of about 90 points.

As Republicans demand spending cuts and policy changes, Biden is facing increased pushback from Democrats, particularly progressives, who argue the reductions will fall too heavily on domestic programs that Americans rely on.

Some Democrats want Biden to invoke his authority under the 14th amendment to raise the debt ceiling on his own, an idea that raises legal questions and that the president has so far said he is not inclined to consider.

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US Supreme Court Lets Illinois Keep Ban on Sale of Some Semiautomatic Guns for Now

The U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that Illinois can, for now, keep in place a new law that bars the sale of certain semiautomatic guns and large-capacity magazines.

The high court denied an emergency request from people challenging the law, which bans so-called assault weapons. The law’s opponents had asked the court to put the law on hold while a court challenge continues. The court did not comment and no justice publicly dissented.

The high court’s action comes at a time when gun violence has been heavily in the news. Since the beginning of the year, 115 people have died in 22 mass killings — an average of one mass killing a week, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in a partnership with Northeastern University. The database counts killings involving four or more fatalities, not including the perpetrator. Just recently, on May 6, a man armed with an AR-15 style rifle and other firearms fatally shot eight people, including three children, at a mall in the Dallas, Texas, area.

Law enacted this year

The case before the Supreme Court involves an Illinois state law enacted in January. The legislation bans the sale of a series of guns including the AR-15 and AK-47. The law also bars the sale of magazines that have more than 15 rounds of ammunition for handguns and more than 10 rounds of ammunition for a long gun.

People who legally owned the now-barred guns and magazines ahead of the law’s enactment can continue to keep them. The guns, however, must be registered with law enforcement.

Nine other states and the District of Columbia have gun bans similar to the one in Illinois, according to the gun control group Brady, which tracks the legislation. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey and New York also require registration of guns purchased prior to the law while four other states — Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington — do not.

Shooting inspired legislation

The Illinois legislation was driven largely by the killing of seven people at a Fourth of July parade last year in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. The shooter was armed with an AR-15 rifle and 30-round magazines.

A federal trial court in February declined to put the law on hold. A federal appeals court also declined to put the law on hold while the case continues.

The case also involves a separate so-called assault weapon bans passed by the city of Naperville.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority last year handed gun rights activists a major victory, ruling that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. But the decision left open whether restrictions states might impose would be constitutional.

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US Debt Ceiling Looms Over Biden’s Foreign Trips

The threat of the United States defaulting on its obligations looms over the upcoming G-7 summit in Japan that President Joe Biden is scheduled to attend before continuing to a summit with the so-called Quad leaders in Australia and one with Pacific Island leaders in Papua New Guinea. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has the story.

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US Debt Ceiling Looms Over Biden’s Foreign Trips

The monthslong impasse between the White House and congressional Republicans over raising the debt ceiling to keep the U.S. from defaulting on its obligations could derail Joe Biden’s upcoming meeting with allies in Japan and Australia.

The U.S. president is scheduled to depart Washington for Hiroshima on May 17 to attend a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders. On May 22 he is to continue to Sydney for the Quad Summit with a brief stop in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, to meet with Pacific Island Forum leaders. The meetings have been billed as opportunities to deepen cooperation on regional challenges and advance U.S. strategic interests in countering China’s influence.

Biden “is expecting to go,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during her briefing Friday. Earlier this week, Biden said he is committed to going but that resolving the debt ceiling deadlock is the “single most important thing” on his agenda. Depending on the state of those negotiations, he said it’s possible he would attend “virtually or not go.”

It would not be the first time an American president has skipped a summit over budget disputes at home. Barack Obama canceled a trip to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Indonesia and the East Asia summit in Brunei in 2013 because of a government shutdown over a budget disagreement, and Bill Clinton pulled out of the APEC Japan meeting in 1995, also during a debt ceiling dispute.

G-7 Hiroshima

Hiroshima, Japan, is the venue for this year’s May 19-21 summit of the G-7, a grouping of the world’s leading industrial nations, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and the European Union.

Leaders will try to find alignment in countering Beijing’s use of trade and investment restrictions, boycotts and sanctions for what they see as “economic coercion.” They will do so through export controls and restrictions on investment from their own nations to China, while seeking to slow China’s technological advance and reduce its dominance of the global supply chain.

More than a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the meeting will also focus on supporting Kyiv’s defense and ratcheting up economic pressure on Russia through broader export bans. G-7 members, mainly those in Europe, still export around $4.7 billion a month to Russia, about 43% of what they did before the invasion, mostly pharmaceuticals, machinery, food and chemicals.

As part of his outreach to the Global South, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, this year’s G-7 host, has invited Australia, Brazil, Comoros, Cook Islands, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Ukraine and Vietnam.

“A little bit like the G-7 trying to create a mini-G-20 without China and Russia,” said Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center, in a briefing to reporters Friday.

Looming over the meeting is the concern that financial instability from the threat of a U.S. default and the recent collapse of three American banks will spill over into the rest of the world. That would particularly hurt countries in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia that are struggling with post-pandemic debt accumulated through infrastructure and other loans mainly from China.

There have been calls to reduce those debts to more manageable levels, said Shihoko Goto, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center. However, she told VOA, “Without having China there, there isn’t really going to be much momentum.”

Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are also at the top of this year’s agenda, with Kishida’s symbolic choice of hosting the summit in his hometown of Hiroshima, a city destroyed by an atomic weapon in 1945.

Notably lacking in this G-7 is the push to provide funding for global infrastructure projects as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which was a focus in the last two G-7 summits.

Pacific Island Forum

From Hiroshima, Biden is scheduled to head to Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, on May 22 to meet with Prime Minister James Marape and other leaders of the Pacific Island Forum, a grouping of 18 countries and territories spanning more than 30 million square kilometers of ocean. There he will seek to establish stronger strategic ties and deter those nations from making security deals with China amid rising tensions over Taiwan.

PNG officials say defense and surveillance agreements between PNG and the U.S. have been finalized and are set to be signed by Biden, including deals to help PNG mitigate climate change and strengthen deterrence capacity against illegal fishing.

Biden will be the highest U.S. official to visit in recent years, following Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Forum in Port Moresby. Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited the region three times, setting up infrastructure projects and signing a 2022 security pact with the Solomon Islands.

“The U.S. needs to make up ground in the region,” said Charles Edel, the inaugural Australia Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies during a briefing earlier this week. “Years of strategic neglect from Washington produced a strategic vacuum that China was eager to step into.”

Last year the administration hosted the first U.S.-Pacific Island Country Summit in Washington. It has established representation in the Pacific Islands Forum and is opening new embassies in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga.

Observers also will be watching for any progress on the U.S. offer to revamp PNG’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island that Pence announced during his 2018 visit.

Quad Summit

After the brief stop in Port Moresby, Biden is scheduled to continue to a summit of the Quad countries — the U.S., Japan, India and Australia — May 24 in Sydney, hosted by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The Quad was formed in 2007 to bolster economic and security relations among the four democracies and eventually evolved to become a strategic alignment against China’s rise.

This will be the fourth meeting of the group, and the second to be held in person following last year’s Tokyo summit. It’s structured around six leader-level working groups, on global health security, climate, critical and emerging technologies, cyber, space, and infrastructure.

Last year the Quad launched the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness, aiming to improve partners’ ability to protect their waters and resources and deter illicit Chinese maritime activities.

Australian media is reporting that Albanese has invited Biden to speak in front of the parliament in Canberra. The White House has not said whether Biden will accept.

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In Town Hall, Trump Digs in on Election Lies, Downplays Capitol Riot

During a tense CNN town hall Wednesday, former President Donald Trump dug in on his lies about the 2020 election, downplayed the violence on Jan. 6, 2021, and repeatedly insulted a woman in response to a civil jury’s finding this week that he was liable in sexually assaulting her.

During the contentious back-and-forth in early voting New Hampshire — where moderator Kaitlan Collins sometimes struggled to fact-check his misstatements in real time — Trump continued to insist the election had been rigged, even though state and federal election officials, his own campaign and White House aides, and numerous courts have rejected his allegations.

Trump also repeatedly minimized the violence caused by a mob of his supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a bid to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s win. Instead, he said he was inclined to pardon “a large portion” of Jan. 6 defendants if he wins reelection. He also rejected a suggestion that he apologize to his former vice president, Mike Pence, who was targeted by the mob.

“I don’t feel he was in any danger,” he said. In fact, Trump said, Pence was the one who “did something wrong.”

Throughout, the audience of Republican and unaffiliated voters cheered him on, laughing and applauding.

The prime-time forum in New Hampshire brought together a network and candidate who have long sparred with each other. But the stakes were raised considerably Tuesday after jurors in New York found Trump had sexually abused and defamed advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, though they rejected her claim that he raped her nearly three decades ago.

The jury awarded her $5 million in damages. Trump said the ruling was “a disgrace” and he vowed to appeal.

Trump, at Wednesday’s event, again insisted he didn’t know Carroll, even as he attacked her in deeply personal terms. “She’s a wack job,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.

While the civil trial verdict carries no criminal penalties, it nonetheless revives attention on the myriad investigations facing Trump, who was indicted in New York in March over payments made to women to cover up their allegations of extramarital affairs with him. Trump is also facing investigations in Georgia and Washington over his alleged interference in the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents and potential obstruction of justice.

A small group of anti-Trump protesters gathered Wednesday evening outside the site where the town hall was being held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. Their signs included messages like “Nobody is above the law” and “Elections not insurrection.”

Trump, during the town hall, repeatedly refused to say whether he would sign a federal abortion ban if it landed on his desk, saying he would “negotiate” so “people are happy.”

“I’m looking at a solution that’s going to work,” he said.

Trump has had a much more contentious relationship with CNN than he had with Fox. Trump has called CNN “fake news” and sparred with Collins. She was once barred from a Rose Garden event after Trump’s team became upset with her shouted questions at an earlier Oval Office availability.

Nonetheless, Trump’s team saw the invitation from CNN as an opportunity to connect with a broader swath of voters than those who usually tune into the conservative outlets he favors.

“President Trump has been battle-tested and is a proven winner. He doesn’t shy away from anything and faces them head on,” said Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung.

The appearance also served as another contrast with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seen as a top rival to Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 and is expected to launch his campaign in the coming weeks. DeSantis has taken a sheltered media approach, largely eschewing questions from the mainstream press while embracing Fox News, which was once a loyal Trump cheerleader but is now frequently denigrated by the former president.

Trump’s campaign has turned to new channels, including popular conservative podcasts and made-for-social-media videos that often rack up hundreds of thousands of views. His team has also been inviting reporters from a variety of outlets to ride aboard his plane and has been arranging unadvertised stops at local restaurants and other venues to show him interacting with supporters, in contrast to the less charismatic DeSantis.

It remains unclear how or whether Tuesday’s verdict will have any impact on the race. Trump’s indictment in New York on charges he falsified business records only seemed to improve his standing in the GOP primary and his campaign was fundraising off the verdict.

Trump’s rivals weighed in on Tuesday’s verdict, with some hitting him harder than others.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the accusations “another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump.” Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy came to Trump’s defense and said he doubted a case would have even been brought if the defendant had been someone other than Trump.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former ally who is now weighing a run as a Trump antagonist, said Trump’s insistence that he had no idea who Carroll was “ridiculous.”

“This kind of conduct is unacceptable for somebody that we call a leader,” Christie told Brian Kilmeade on Fox News radio. “Do I think this is a silver bullet that ends Donald Trump’s candidacy? No. I just think it’s additional weight of evidence that people are going to look at.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to launch a campaign in the coming weeks, told NBC he doesn’t believe voters will pay much attention to the verdict.

“It’s just one more story, focusing on my former running mate, that I know is a great fascination to members of the national media, but I just don’t think it’s where the American people are focused,” Pence said. He said he had “never heard or witnessed behavior of that nature” while he was serving under Trump.

The CNN town hall, the first major television event of the 2024 presidential campaign, had drawn suspicion from both sides of the political divide.

Democrats questioned whether a man who continues to spread lies about his 2020 election loss — lies that sparked the Capitol riot — should be given a prime-time platform. Conservatives wondered why Trump would appear on — and potentially give a ratings bump to — a network that he has continually disparaged.

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Tense White House Debt-Limit Meeting Ends With No Agreement

Top U.S. lawmakers emerged frustrated and empty-handed after a tense Tuesday meeting with President Joe Biden over the nation’s debt limit. Biden sought to calm global financial jitters, saying he thought the meeting was “productive” and that the group would meet again Friday as the U.S. stares down the possibility of defaulting on its financial obligations for the first time in history.

Biden met Tuesday afternoon with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a bid to ensure the government can borrow more money to pay for spending it has already incurred.

Afterward, Biden expressed optimism over a future deal. However, he reiterated that he will continue to insist that Congress lift the debt ceiling.

“I made it clear during our meeting that default is not an option,” he said. “I repeated that time and again, ‘America is not a deadbeat nation.’”

Republicans are insisting that the federal government reduce spending before they will agree to raise the debt ceiling. Meanwhile, Biden is adamant that Congress has a duty to pay its bills and that the two issues should be addressed separately. The two sides blame each other for the impasse, and Biden said “a default would be disastrous.”

“Everyone in the meeting understood the risk of default: our economy would fall into a significant recession, it would devastate retirement accounts, increase borrowing costs,” Biden said. “According to Moody’s, nearly 8 million Americans would lose their jobs, and our international reputation would be damaged in the extreme.”

But McCarthy emerged from the meeting clearly disappointed that no progress had been made.

“I didn’t see any new movement,” McCarthy said. He added: “I asked him numerous times, ‘Are there some places we could find savings?’ He wouldn’t give me any.”

However, McConnell sought to assure Americans that the U.S. will continue to pay its debts. Even with the Treasury taking “extraordinary measures” to pay the government’s bills, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers last week that the Treasury’s ability to pay the government’s bills could run short as early as June 1.

“The United States is not going to default,” he said. “It never has and it never will.”

Default a ‘gift’ to adversaries

Earlier in the day, the White House warned that the United States defaulting on its debts would be “a gift” to adversaries, including China and Russia, and would lead to a recession that could send shock waves across the global economy.

“Default would create global uncertainty about the value of the U.S. dollar and U.S. institutions and leadership, leading to volatility in currency and financial markets and commodity markets that are priced in dollars,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing on Tuesday.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines previously made a similar point to the Senate Intelligence Committee about the national security consequences of the U.S. teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff.

The Treasury debt limit, which caps the amount of outstanding debt the country can have and thus Treasury’s ability to issue securities to fund the government’s obligations, was reached on January 19.

Ceiling raised 3 times under Trump

Lifting the debt ceiling was once a routine vote. Congress has raised it 78 times since 1960, 29 times under Democratic presidents and 49 times under Republican presidents, including three times under former President Donald Trump.

Policy analyst Arianna Fano of the Bipartisan Policy Center said even this verbal sparring will impact markets. A default, she said, would be especially rough for nations with high levels of external debt.

“Given the costs of this brinkmanship alone, we know the economic impacts of an actual default would range from damaging to catastrophic,” Fano said. “Treasury securities are viewed as one of the safest assets in the world, but in a default scenario investors could look to minimize their risk exposure by pulling investments from developing countries, thus reducing access to capital and hampering economic growth.”

How would a US default affect the world?

The U.S. economy is the largest in the world, and the dollar is considered the world’s reserve currency, meaning that many countries’ central banks and other monetary authorities hold U.S. dollars as part of their foreign exchange reserves as a backup in case their own currency fails.

A debt event in the United States would have serious consequences not only for the U.S. but also for the global economy and for world financial markets.

Should the U.S. fail to pay its debts, in addition to creating havoc in global stock markets and sending the American economy into recession, it would trigger a sell-off in U.S. Treasury bonds, weakening the dollar and raising interest rates. This would affect foreign currency reserves held by other countries and make the costs of borrowing more expensive, potentially leading countries with already high levels of borrowing into a debt crisis.

“If interest rates in the United States go up, it’s going to take all other interest rates up with it. It’s going to make all other risk assets look very shaky,” said Desmond Lachman, former deputy director at the International Monetary Fund who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

He agreed with Yellen’s view that a U.S. debt default would be an economic catastrophe that must be avoided.

Lachman told VOA the world can ill-afford such financial turbulence, especially with the regional banking crisis that began with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in March, followed by the toppling of two other U.S. banks — Signature Bank and First Republic.

Safest investment

U.S. Treasury bonds are traditionally considered the safest investment that global financial investors turn to in times of distress, said Heidi Crebo-Rediker, former chief economist of the U.S. Department of State and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“It is the deepest, most liquid, solid and reliable market in the world,” she said.

Crebo-Rediker added that countries and investors need not be overly concerned about an actual U.S. default.

“This is a question of willingness to pay, not ability to pay,” she said. “And that is a very big distinction.”

Chris Hannas contributed to this report.

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US Rep. George Santos Facing Federal Charges, Sources Say

U.S. Representative George Santos, who faced outrage and mockery over a litany of fabrications about his heritage, education and professional pedigree, has been charged with federal criminal offenses, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

The charges against Santos, filed in the Eastern District of New York, remain under seal.

The people could not publicly discuss specific details of the case while it remains under seal and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.

Reached on Tuesday, Santos said, “This is news to me.”

“You’re the first to call me about this,” he said in a brief phone interview.

The charges were first reported by CNN.

The New York Republican has admitted to lying about having Jewish ancestry, a Wall Street background, college degrees, and a history as a star volleyball player. Serious questions about his finances also surfaced, including the source of what he claimed was a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands of dollars in back rent.

Santos has resisted calls to resign and recently announced he was running for reelection. He said his lies about his life story, which included telling people he had jobs at several global financial firms and a lavish real estate portfolio, were harmless embellishments of his resume.

Pressure on him to quit, though, has been intense. Reporters and members of the public hounded him. He was mocked on social media and late-night television. Fellow New York Republicans demanded he resign, saying he had betrayed voters and his own party with his lies.

Nassau County prosecutors and the New York attorney general’s office had previously said they were looking into possible violations of the law.

In addition to questions about his life story, Santos’ campaign spending stoked scrutiny because of unusual payments for travel, lodging and other items.

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center lodged a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and urged regulators to investigate Santos. The “mountain of lies” Santos propagated during the campaign about his life story and qualifications, the center said, should prompt the commission to “thoroughly investigate what appear to be equally brazen lies about how his campaign raised and spent money.”

In his filings with the FEC, Santos initially said he loaned his campaign and related political action committees more than $750,000 — money he claimed came from a family company.

Yet, the wealth necessary to make those loans seems to have emerged from nowhere. In a financial disclosure statement filed with the clerk of the U.S. House in 2020, Santos said he had no assets and an annual income of $55,000.

His company, the Devolder Organization, wasn’t incorporated until spring 2021. Yet last September, Santos filed another financial disclosure form reporting that this new company, incorporated in Florida, had paid him a $750,000 salary in each of the last two years, plus another $1 million to $5 million in dividends. In one interview, Santos described the Devolder Organization as a business that helped rich people buy things like yachts and aircraft.

Court records indicate Santos was the subject of three eviction proceedings in Queens between 2014 and 2017 because of unpaid rent.

Some Republicans, including those in his district, have sharply castigated Santos for his dishonesty. The Nassau County Republican Committee, which had supported his candidacy, said it would not support him for reelection.

Santos lost his first race for Congress in 2020 but ran again in 2022 and won in a district that is in the suburbs of Long Island and a sliver of Queens.

A local newspaper, The North Shore Leader, had raised questions about Santos’ background before the election, but it was not until a few weeks after the election that the depth of his duplicity became public.

Beyond his resume, Santos invented a life story that has come under question, including claims that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”

During his campaign, he referred to himself as “a proud American Jew.”

Confronted with questions about that story, Santos, a Roman Catholic, said he never intended to claim Jewish heritage.

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How China, Russia Might Capitalize on US Debt Limit ‘Chaos’

US officials are warning that China and Russia would capitalize on the ‘chaos’ that would ensue if the United States defaulted on its debt. The warnings come amid a monthslong standoff between President Joe Biden and Republicans in securing congressional approval to raise the nation’s debt limit. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has the story.

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