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Biden’s Address to Congress

CNN

On his 99th day in office, President Joe Biden gave an address to a joint session of Congress. President Biden was greeted by a limited number of members of Congress due to the strict social distancing rules on the House floor. All the seatings for senators and representatives were marked with their names, as the House floor looked empty. President Biden began his address to the joint session of Congress by introducing his Vice President Kampala Harris and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President, no president has ever said those words from this podium, no president has ever said those words and it’s about time.” Accompanied by a loud cheer, Vice President Harris and Speaker Pelosi received claps from the President and fellow members on the House floor. In his speech, President Biden utilized the word “job” 43 times as he emphasized his “American Jobs Plan” and the speedy recovery of the economy as the unemployment rate steadily decreased under his tenure. Along with the “American Jobs Plan”, President Biden introduced a $1.8 billion “American Families Plan” which is aimed to benefit families and children providing necessary childcare, funding schools from preschools up to colleges, reduce Affordable Care Act’s health insurance premiums, and other social benefits. With Democrats holding a narrow majority in both the Senate and the House, it now comes down to President Biden’s ability to sell the plan to the general public as a necessity rather than a luxury. President Biden did make multiple misleadings and factually inaccurate claims, with many media companies reporting fact-checks on his speech, such as the claims on economy including the state of the economy when he took office, and on immigration at the Southern Border. On the other hand, President Biden was able to state his achievement in accomplishing his vaccination goals within his first 100 days in office, “We are already seeing the results. After I promised we would get 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots into people’s arms in 100 days, we will have provided over 220 million COVID shots in those 100 days.” As every American over the age of 16 can now receive the COVID-19 vaccines, it is only a matter of time before the United States gets back on track as President Biden stated, “Now, after just 100 days, I can report to the nation America is on the move again.”

Withdrawal of US Troops from Afghanistan

On April 15, 2021, President Joe Biden announced the full withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan. In his speech, he highlighted the 20 years of American involvement in Afghanistan, and the plan of full withdrawal by September 11, 2021, 20 years since the tragic 9/11. He held his announcement in the Roosevelt Treaty Room in White House, the exact location President George W. Bush announced the US involvement in Afghanistan. President Biden in his first minute of the announcement stated the United States’s objective of war in Afghanistan, “We went to Afghanistan in 2001 to root out Al-Qaeda, to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan.” President Biden claimed the objective to be complete and that the United States have no right to shape the future of Afghanistan, it is up to the Afghans themselves. However, on April 22, commander of U.S. Central Command Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie gave pessimistic comment on the full withdrawal of US combat troops, “I am concerned about the Afghan military’s ability to to hold on after we leave.” General McKenzie’s comments come after his hearing in Congress on Thursday, which diverges from the approach taken by President Biden. A plan suggested by President Donald Trump during his tenure was to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by May 1, which subsequently was turned into a beginning date of withdrawal under the Biden administration. President Trump claimed the news of US troops in Afghan withdrawal as ,”Wonderful and positive.” With President Biden’s plan set to be in place from May 1, all US troops deployed in Afghanistan could return home after the completion of full withdrawal by September 11, 2021.

Biden’s Plan for Tax Hikes

President Joe Biden

On April 22, The New York Times and Bloomberg News reported on the alleged tax hikes proposed by President Joe Biden. Reports claims doubling of the highest long-term capital gains taxes on individuals making more than $1,000,000 from 20% to 39.6%. They also reported the proposal of raising the marginal income tax rate from 37% to 39.6% for the highest earners, above $400,000.

As a result of these reports on potential tax hikes, the S&P 500 Index took a dive of 420 points, which shortly recovered afterwards. According to the comments reported by Reuters on portfolio manager at Valueworks LLC, Charles Lemonides, “The market reaction has been pretty muted because there’s a long way between a proposal and event. If people put a high likelihood on that taking place the reaction in the markets would be more dramatic.”

After the reports by The New York Times and Bloomberg News, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether there’s further information on the plan, and whether there could be a discourage for long term investments. To these questions, Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded with open arms providing the future uncertainty of the finalization of the plan, and re-affirmed the White House’s promise on not raising a cent on taxes for Americans making less than $400,000 a year. 

With up-coming “American Families Plan” set to be announced by President Biden in a speech to Congress this week, the tax hikes will be a vital segment in order to reduce the budget deficit and provide finances to pay for his plans.

US, Japan Pressure Campaign Against China

AFP | MANDEL NGAN

On April 16, 2021, President Joe Biden welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as President Biden’s first ever face-to-face bilateral meeting with a foreign leader. This meeting between the United States and Japan, an alliance since 1960, presented a strong message against the People’s Republic of China and its ruling political party, the Chinese Communist Party. After welcoming Prime Minister Suga to the White House, three meetings were held: one-on-on lunch between President Biden and Prime Minister Suga along with their translators, a mid-size meeting with top officials, and an extended bilateral meeting. Even before the two parties met in person, various media predicted the inclusion of some agenda on Taiwan, which came to fruition through the released joint statement, “We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” The statement also included the two nation’s agenda towards Chinese activities, “President Biden and Prime Minister Suga exchanged views on the impact of China’s actions on peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world, and shared their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including the use of economic and other forms of coercion.” With both leaders calling each other using their first name, President Biden stating, “Yoshi and I have had some private time together,” and Prime Minister Suga also reiterating their close relationship, “I look forward to the actual implementation of the outcomes of today’s significant meeting and to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific by further collaboration and deeper cooperation with Joe.” Over and over again, the United States and Japan have reiterated their cooperation to tackle the issue in Indo-Pacific region, and their close alliance to stand strong against China. Over the course of the meetings, two sides focused on their, “Vision of free and open Indo-Pacific,” as expected, but they also dived into their new initiative of Competitiveness and Resilience (CoRe) Partnership. Not only do they envision a more competitive society, President Biden and Prime Minister Suga launched their brand new U.S.-Japan Climate Partnership to meet the Paris Climate Accord, further provide innovations on clean energy, and achieve decarbonization of both nations. With the shared belief in ending the global pandemic, the public statement released reiterates that, “We will also cooperate on global COVID-19 vaccine supply and manufacturing needs toward ending the pandemic.” During the three-day visit to the White House, the Prime Minister held a phone discussion with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla about their availability to further provide Pfizer vaccines on COVID-19 for Japan. Even with the fourth COVID-19 surge in Tokyo, President Biden revealed his support for the Summer 2020 Olympics and Paralympics which has been delayed for the summer of 2021. Now with ever growing tensions between China and the United States on the issues of Taiwan Strait and Indo-Paacfic Region, along with human rights violations in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the US-Japan meeting has angered Beijing. Soon after the meeting, comments made during the joint press release has prompted the Chinese embassy in the United States to express its firm opposition, stating, “The decision is extremely irresponsible and will gravely damage the immediate interests of regional countries and peoples. It is also inappropriate for the U.S. to acquiesce.”

Biden’s Gun Control Actions

President Joe Biden

On April 7, President Joe Biden announced his initial 6 executive actions to combat gun violence while the administration await for the Congress to act. The plan illustrates 6 actions, which the White House announced is within the scope of the presidential authority and the Second Amendment. These actions are for the Justice Department led by the United States Attorney General Merrick Garland to issue a proposed rule within 30 days to tighten restrictions on “ghost-guns,” issue a proposed rule within 60 days to tighten restrictions on pistol stabilizing braces which turns pistol into a short barreled rifle, publish within 60 days on “red flag” legislations for states, issue an annual report on firearm tracking. The actions also include President Biden’s choice of David Chipman as the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and the administration’s investment in intervention programs in urban communities. The White House in their fact sheet claimed the reason for such swift actions as response to the recent mass-shootings in Boulder and Atlanta which took 18 lives combined. Restrictions on “ghost-guns” are meant to eliminate kits, which can be assembled in less than 30 mins with no serial numbers, purchased by criminals. Firearm brace is a device which stabilizes the firearms when fired, which further improves the accuracy and deadly. The “red flag” legislation for states allows for family members or law enforcements to petition for a court order which temporarily bans the firearm from the owner if they present danger from harming themselves or others. The Justice Department is also responsible for publishing an annual report to provide necessary datas needed to address the issues. Finally, the administration moved to nominate David Chapman as the Director of ATF to pursue common sense gun safety laws, and investments aimed to progress fundings to urban areas where crimes are frequent to combat against community violence. In March, the House of Representatives passed two comprehensive bipartisan bills on gun control measures, one aimed to close the loopholes by expanding background checks to be issued before a firearm can be sold, and the second aimed to expand the timeline to 10 business days from 3 days for the federal government to complete background checks. While the first bill on closing loopholes passed the House of Representatives with 227-203 with 10 Republicans on board, the second bill on expanding the timeline narrowly passed the House of Representatives with 219-210 with only 2 Republicans on board. As these two bills are unlikely to pass the Senate as it requires a minimum of 60 votes to overturn the filibuster, 10 Republicans and 50 Democrats, President Joe Biden decided to act within his power rather than to await for the congested Congress to pass bills on gun controls. In his speech in the Rose Garden, President Biden stated that, “We should also ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines in this country,” which gathered applaud as he claims the gun violence had, “Enough prayers,” and that it is, “Time for some actions.” As the administration acts to further utilize executive actions, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer argued for the executive actions as not being, “A substitute for meaningful legislation to address the gun violence epidemic,” and that he is, “Committed to hold votes on the floor of the United States Senate on gun violence prevention legislation.”

Biden’s $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President Biden announced his infrastructure plan the “American Jobs Plan” on March 31 and detailed his plan to secure American’s future and to win the race against China. The “American Jobs Plan” like the “American Rescue Plan” will have a price tag of $2 trillion dollars with billions being spent on various structures all over the United States. According to the statements released by the White House, they are planning to fix highways, rebuild bridges, upgrade ports, airports, and transit systems,  while delivering clean drinking water, a renewed electric grid, and high-speed broadband to all Americans, and solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers, and many more which will last for 8 years. The plan includes modernizing 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main-streets and fixing the ten most economically significant bridges in the country along with 10,000 smaller bridges costing $115 billion. Hundreds of stations, airports, transit, ports, and railroads will be repaired and improved. It will cost $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for Amtrak and freight rail, $42 billion for ports and airports, and $100 billion for broadband. Broadband is a connection to the internet allowing for communication and transfer of information, which will further improve around the country and especially for people in rural areas. The plan also includes $111 billion for water infrastructure with $45 billion being spent on eliminating all lead pipes, which will improve the health of children and further improve the living conditions for communities of color as they widely employ lead pipes to this day. President Biden announced plan to eliminate lead pipes as helping children from poisonous effects, “American jobs plan will put plumbers and pipefitters to work, replacing one-hundred percent of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines so every American, every child can turn on a faucet or a fountain and drink clean water.” President Biden also introduced his plan of $174 billion to advance the EV market in the United States through enabling manufacturers to gather materials and create batteries in the United States. The EV market plan also includes giving consumers point of sale rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made EVs for affordable prices, and establishing a national network of 500,000 EV charge stations by 2030 through incentives and grants for local government and private sectors. The “American Jobs Plan” is also aimed at battling against climate change which has brought on 22 extreme weather and climate-related disasters costing nearly $100 billion according to the statement released by the White House. On April 2, President Biden spoke on the potential jobs created by the plan, “Independent analysis shows that if we pass this plan the economy will create 19 million jobs.” President Biden was referring to Moody’s Analytics report, however, a report by Georgetown University found that the “American Jobs Plan,” “Would create or save 15 million jobs over 10 years and would increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11% to 14% of all jobs in this country, temporarily reviving the blue-collar economy.” As President Biden is scrambling to enact his agenda, United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg threw this support on the plan as a pathway forward in paying for all the necessary improvements on infrastructure, “But this package as it stands is the president’s vision. And we’re open to ideas. We’ll hear what other folks have to say, but what we know is we can’t afford to go on like we’ve been going on. To just somehow accept our deteriorating infrastructure or to say we’ll get around to broadband someday in the future. That’s not going to cut it.” With Republican lawmakers already sounding the alarm that the “American Jobs Plan” is a Green New Deal, many Republicans came out in opposition to the plan while the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wants a vote in the House by summer.

Suez Canal Blockade Halts Global Trade

Julianne Cona / Instagram

On March 23, 2021, a vessel owned by Evergreen Marine Corporation got stuck in the middle of Suez Canal, halting ships from being able to pass through the canal. The vessel named “Ever Given” is a 220,000-ton, 400-metre-long ultra-large container ship (ULCS) operated by Taiwan based container transportation and shipping company Evergreen Marine Corporation. According to former captain and maritime law specialist Jamil Sayegh, the vessel could have been blown off course due to strong winds, “The force generated by the wind would have unintentionally altered the heading of the vessel.” However, he went on to add that human error could have been a factor as no previous ships encountered a similar problem passing at the time Ever Given got wedged across the canal. Sayegh further added the financial difficulty of this incident as a costly one, “If you delay this vessel at Suez anchorage, it means you are making the ship owner to lose $60,000 per day or $3-4000 per hour of delay.” Lloyd’s List, a London-based shipping-news journal, came up with data that the blockade resulting from Ever Given is costing $400 million per hour in delayed goods or $9.6 billion a day. Right after the incident, chairman of Suez Canal Authority Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei gave a  comment to reporters of the current situation, “There may have been technical or human errors,” following with, “All of these factors will become apparent in the investigation.” With over 300 vessels on each side of Ever Given awaiting passage through, on Saturday, excavators dug out 20,000 tonnes of sand and 14 tug-boats were operated to dislodge the vessel. While the vessel’s rudder has been released from the sediment, the vessel remains stuck. With little progress, the Ever Given has been stuck for over 5 days while prices of commodities such as oil and coffee beans keep rising. The halt stemming from a stuck vessel through the Suez Canal is causing disruptions on global trade and creating a ripple effect on supply chains across the world which were already at a crisis as a consequence of COVID-19 related trades. 

Biden’s Clash Against China

The Financial Times

52 days after President Joe Biden took office of the 46th US Presidency, he met with the “Quad” (Australia, India, Japan, USA) virtually to discuss the subject of COVID-19 and its vaccine distribution, and the problem in the Indo-Pacific region. US President Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga dived right into the discussion over the COVID-19 vaccination amid the rising influence of the Chinese vaccine-diplomacy. The four countries agreed to commit to distributing 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022 which is seen by many as a countermeasure against China’s vaccine diplomacy which has been distributing free vaccines to its neighboring countries. Further discussions were on the problem in the Indo-Pacific region and its waters as PM Yoshihide Suga voiced his concern over Chinese activities in the Info-Pacific region, and to pursue freedom of navigation and rule-based maritime order. The four countries have also affirmed their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the resolution of the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. After the virtual Quad meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin flew to Tokyo to their Japan-US Consultative Committee (2+2) where they met and discussed with the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi and Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi over the Chinese human rights violations, Chinese maritime assertiveness, and China’s revise over the article 47 over the Chinese Coast Guards. Their joint statement presented a united front against China as the report reads, “The United States and Japan acknowledged that China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military, and technological challenges to the Alliance and to the international community,” and their agreement follows, “They reaffirmed their support for unimpeded lawful commerce and respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea.” Afterwards, Japan-US joint statements go on to present concern over the China Coast Guard Law and North Korea, ending with a remembrance of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Secretary Blinken and Austin met with the PM Yoshihide Suga after the meeting with the ministers and headed to the 2+2 meeting in South Korea. On March 17, Secretary Blinken and Austin met with the Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook where they predominantly discussed over the denuclearization of North Korea and the mutual commitment of the defense of South Korea. The joint statement released after the meeting demonstrates a strong military alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States as the report claims, “Both sides reaffirmed a mutual commitment to the defense of the ROK and to the strengthening of the ROK-U.S. combined defense posture, consistent with the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty.” After the 2+2 with Japan and the 2+2 with Republic of Korea, Secretary of State Blinken flew to Anchorage, Alaska for his meeting with the top Chinese delegations. On March 18, back in the United States, Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Xi and Director Yang Jiechi with the talks kicking off with both sides trading icy words. While Secretary Blinken presented concerns over the Chinese human rights violations, cyber attacks, and more, which the Chinese delegations replied as the matters being Chinese concern alone and that the United States has its own problems to deal with. Jake Sullivan gave his remarks on the United States that they are working to fix those issues raised by Director Yang by giving a lecture on the improvements the US is making, “A confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve, and that is the secret sauce of America.”

One Year Anniversary of COVID-19 Pandemic

The world has reached one year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. It was on March 11, 2020 when the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke to the world that COVID-19 is a world-wide pandemic. Currently on March 14, 2021, coronavirus deaths have reached a staggering 2.65 million deaths and 120 million cases identified with ever more growing numbers. Since COVID-19 was thought to have originated in Wuhan, China, countries around the world closed their borders, and established lockdowns in their countries. However, countries were scrambling to fight both the pandemic and the economic downturns, which gave rise to unemployment rates all around and massive bankruptcies for retail businesses. While small businesses were closing downs, big techs and corporations raked in billions and 614 American billionaires collectively increased their wealth by $900 billion. During this time, over 14 million Americans lost their jobs while the Trump administration gave out $1200 of stimulus checks per person. The rise in staying home gave rise to Zoom meetings and remote works for both students and employees while we clapped on our essential workers and medical staff for their braveness and courage. Hospitals around the world were soon overwhelmed with the number of COVID-19 patients needing medical assistance. Many of the elders over the age of 65 and people with prior medical conditions required ventilators after contracting COVID-19 leaving many families broken up and torn apart from their family and friend’s deaths. In the United States alone, the country has surpassed 534,000 deaths and 29.4 million cases, however, under President Joe Biden’s administration, COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed and more than 100 million doses have been given with over 35 million Americans fully vaccinated. Now, the United States leads the world in vaccinations giving hope and leadership to the rest of the world in resolving this pandemic together. During the middle of a pandemic, the civil rights movement “Black Lives Matter” for the call of equal rights and treatment for the Blacks and African American in the United States and the rest of the world surged onto the main stage. Hundreds of protests for the call to reform the police system led to many police reforms and a light onto the poor treatments African Americans receive by many of the police officers. Just as one people of color was fighting for their right to fair treatment, Asian American hate crime dramatically rose 150% with the organization Stop AAPI Hate reporting over 3,000 cases. A movement to raise awareness, and to bring justice and solace to Asian Americans who suffered from hate crimes has been led by many Asian American celebrities. Asian hate crimes are not the problem of only the United States, rather a collective problem around the western and White dominated nations. On the other side of the globe, Japan has been slow in vaccination with only 3,000 Japanese being fully vaccinated and 0.18% of the total Japanese population being given a dose of vaccine. Compared to the United States with over 20% of the total population given a single dose, it has been a slow start for Japan, the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. After delaying the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan has pushed the date back to July 23, 2021. With the slow vaccination and uncertainty over whether people from around the globe are allowed into Japan to watch the Olympics and Paralympics, the Olympic in June could signal the progress the world and especially Japan has made over the COVID-19 response.

Senate Passes $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schemer (D-NY)

On March 6, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package after the Democrats kept the roll call vote open for 11 hours and 50 minutes. The final quorum ended with 50 yeas from all 50 Democratic senators and 49 nays composed of solely Republican senators. The final quorum ended with 50-49 rather than the 50-50, in which the Vice President Kamala Harris was going to cast the tie-breaking vote, as Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) was absent due to a family funeral in Alaska. Vice President Kamala Harris voted in affirmative as she casted the tie-breaking vote on March 4 in order to allow the debate in the Senate for the COVID relief bill (American Rescue Plan). The coronavirus relief package includes one time payment of $1400 stimulus checks for each individual with less than $100,000 and joint filers making up to $150,000 receiving one time payment of $2,800. Each child will also be entitled to $1,400 in addition to the payments received by the parents. Unemployment benefits will stretch up to September 6 with $300 a week payment. It also includes $20 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, $50 billion for testing and tracing, $350 billion in local government relief, and $170 billion for reopening schools. President Joe Biden congratulated and applauded Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schemer (D-NY), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and the Vice President Kamala Harris while giving his remark in the afternoon. President Biden calmed the American people, “Help is on the way,” and, “Look, the American people strongly support the bill. That is the key here. And that is going to seep through, including for our Republican friends.” Overwhelming support of 79% by the general public on the coronavirus relief package, with roughly 90% of Democrats in support and 60% of Republicans in support, the coronavirus relief package is in high demand according to the Pew Research Center. Even though the relief package has been passed by the Senate after intense deliberation, the components within the relief bill has been altered by the Senate from the one passed by the House as the moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and others worked to tweak several elements. The alterations to the bill are the decrease from $400 to $300 for the unemployment benefits, and the elimination of the highly contested $15 minimum wage. This $15 minimum wage was first introduced by the House Democrats with the support of President Joe Biden, however with the low popularity of the bill in the Senate Democrats, the $15 minimum wage has been tweaked out of the House proposed bill on Saturday. Even with the Democratic party’s infighting on the coronavirus relief bill, the Republicans flat out refused to support the bill with 0 Republican lawmakers in both chambers of Congress voting for the coronavirus relief bill. Notably Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) came out in opposition to the relief bill citing that illegal aliens in the United States should not receive this stimulus checks and that his amendment would prevent it. However, Senator Cruz was immediately rebutted by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) where he attributed that the system is same just as it was under the December stimulus check back in 2020 where illegal aliens didn’t receive stimulus checks as they do not possess social security numbers. Now, this revised bill will be sent back down to the House of Representatives for another vote to be then sent out to the White House for the President’s signature.

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