First Thing: Why is Biden one of the most unpopular US presidents?

·7 min read
<span>Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA</span>
Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Some pieces of the puzzle are within Biden’s control and some not, experts say. Plus, the charming history of menopause


Good morning.

After winning more votes than any presidential candidate in US history, Joe Biden is now – just 12 months later – one of the country’s most unpopular presidents.

Much of his domestic agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill, impeded by members of his own party. The virus is once again raging out of control: daily infections of Covid-19 have soared to record levels, hospitalizing more Americans than at any previous point during the pandemic.

The administration’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers was blocked by the supreme court’s conservative super-majority. Inflation is at a nearly 40-year high. Diplomatic talks have so far failed to pull Russia back from the brink of war with Ukraine.

The puzzle of Biden’s unpopularity has many pieces, pollsters and political analysts say. “There’s an element of it that has nothing to do with Joe Biden,” Sarah Longwell, a prominent anti-Trump Republican strategist said. “It’s just a tough time.”

  • How unpopular is he? For months, Biden’s approval ratings have languished in the mid to low 40s, with an average approval rating of 42%. ​​A Quinnipiac poll released last week found him at a dire 33%.

Leaked photos show scale of damage caused by Tonga volcano eruption

Aerial images prepared by the New Zealand defence force for the Tongan government have been leaked online and show some areas have had “catastrophic” devastation inflicted by the tsunami and volcanic eruption while others were relatively unscathed.

The 40 aerial pictures show some areas blanketed with ash, with damaged buildings, while others show parts of the country that appear unscathed.

They were taken by the New Zealand defence force during a reconnaissance flight on Monday and put together in a report for the Tongan government. The photos were then leaked online. The Guardian has confirmed the provenance of the photos.

After the reconnaissance flight, the New Zealand defence force shared a handful of photos with the media, most of them showing defence personnel at work, rather than shots of the islands. The 40 leaked images paint a much fuller picture of the damage to the country, and include annotations about the severity of damage.

  • Little has been heard from Tonga since the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano and subsequent tsunami on Saturday, after the Pacific nation’s main communication cable was broken.

Capitol attack panel grapples with moving inquiry forward

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is weighing whether to subpoena some of Donald Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill as it considers its options on how aggressively it should pursue testimony to move forward its inquiry into the January 6 insurrection.

The Republican House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and Republican members of Congress Jim Jordan and Scott Perry may have inside knowledge about Trump’s plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election and whether it was coordinated with the Capitol attack.

But the outright refusal of McCarthy and the other Republican lawmakers to testify voluntarily with the investigation has intensified discussions among the panel’s members and investigators about whether to force their cooperation.

The select committee is undecided on whether to take that near-unprecedented step.

  • Why are they hesitating? In part because of one major concern that has emerged in recent days, according to two sources familiar with the matter: Republican retaliation against Biden and Democrats in future inquiries.

In other news …

VP Harris delvers remarks virtually with Ebenezer Baptist church, Washington, District of Columbia, USA - 17 Jan 2022Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock (12764376f) United States Vice President Kamala Harris delivers virtual remarks to Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Beloved Community Commemorative Service from the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC. . VP Harris delvers remarks virtually with Ebenezer Baptist church, Washington, District of Columbia, USA - 17 Jan 2022
Harris delivered strong words regarding fighting off a wave of Republican-led voting rights suppression. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock
  • The vice-president, Kamala Harris, said on Monday that the right to vote in America was “under assault”. The speech was given on the Martin Luther King day public holiday and comes as King’s family push for expanded federal voting rights legislation despite opposition from Republicans.

  • The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans.

  • A British man who flew to the US, acquired a gun and took hostages at a Texas synagogue had a criminal record and an extensive history of mental health issues, the Guardian understands. Malik Faisal Akram was killed after a tense 11-hour hostage standoff at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue.

  • Joss Whedon, the Buffy creator and director of films including The Avengers and Justice League, has responded to allegations of misconduct, denying claims from actors including Gal Gadot and Ray Fisher that he threatened and belittled them on set.

Stat of the day: Prince estate valued at $156.4m at end of long legal battle

Prince performing during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in Miami.
Prince performing during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in Miami. Photograph: Chris O’Meara/AP

The estate of the late pop singer Prince, including his catalogue of songs, has been valued at $156.4m (£114m), nearly double the figure arrived at by an earlier appraisal. The estate’s administrator, Comerica Bank, agreed on the figure with the Internal Revenue Service and the heirs to Prince’s estate. The singer died in 2016 without a will, and his estate will pass to three of his siblings as well as the publishing company Primary Wave, who in August 2021 bought rights to the Prince catalogue from another three heirs, two of them deceased.

Don’t miss this: The charming history of menopause and HRT

Ads for early versions of HRT included assurances for husbands, who were told hormone pills made a woman &#x002018;pleasant to live with once again&#x002019;.
Ads for early versions of HRT included assurances for husbands, who were told hormone pills made a woman ‘pleasant to live with once again’. Photograph: Tero Vesalainen/Alamy

For centuries the symptoms of menopause were documented, but women went through it with little intervention. It wasn’t until the advent of science as we know it that physicians (all male at the time, obviously) started more commonly “treating” its symptoms. Suffice it to say, the history of misogyny in medicine goes way, way back, all founded in the idea of women as inferior, and of menstrual blood as evil and poisonous.

Climate check: How Exxon is leveraging Texas courts to silence its climate critics

ExxonMobil is attempting to use an unusual Texas law to target and intimidate its critics, claiming that lawsuits against the company over its long history of downplaying and denying the climate crisis violate the US constitution’s guarantees of free speech. The US’s largest oil firm is asking the Texas supreme court to allow it to use the law, known as rule 202, to pursue legal action against more than a dozen California municipal officials.

Last Thing: Marlon Bundo, Pence family pet rabbit and unlikely star of gay rights book, dies

Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, let children pet Marlon Bundo in 2017.
Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, let children pet Marlon Bundo in 2017. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Marlon Bundo, the family pet rabbit of the former vice-president Mike Pence, has died, marking the end of an unlikely career as a prominent gay rights figure in the US. Political pets are a common theme in American politics but Bundo’s high media profile was unusual. Firstly, he featured in a series of children’s books written by the second family. Secondly, as a parody of Pence’s deep social conservatism, Bundo was also the main theme of a satirical book by the comedian John Oliver that chronicled his search for a same-sex bunny partner.

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