Credit: Parliament Live TV
Credit: Parliament Live TV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has long proclaimed itself “Almost Heaven,” a nod to a song and soaring mountaintop vistas. Now some joke the state name-checked in “Take Me Home, Country Roads” could take things up a notch as Democratic U.S. Sen Joe Manchin bargains his way through Congress. “Maybe we’ll get to heaven status,” said longtime Democratic Party official Nick Casey. Reviving West Virginia’s economically battered coal towns and reversing a persistent population decline is a tall order. But Manchin, who grew up in the mountain town of Farmington, has emerged as a key swing vote in a divided Senate. Now he has his best shot in years to steer federal dollars back home. Manchin put himself in the middle of things again this week over the COVID relief bill making its way through Congress, singlehandedly halting work on the measure Friday as Democrats sought to placate his concerns about the size and duration of an expanded unemployment benefit. As for his own agenda, Manchin has dropped hints publicly about “common sense” infrastructure investments sorely needed back home: expanding rural broadband and fixing roads among them. He declared that West Virginia could supply the manufacturing firepower to “innovate our way to a cleaner climate.” And more than once, he's said coal miners can build the best solar panels if given a chance. Some wonder if his newfound clout might help him do something former President Donald Trump promised but couldn’t deliver — reignite a state economy long overly dependent on a coal industry in freefall. Manchin's Senate colleagues have good reason to study the needs of small towns beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Manchin, 73, was already a recognized dealmaker on Capitol Hill, but deference to the most conservative Democrat in a 50-50 Senate has ratcheted up since November. A senator from Hawaii recently teased him as “your highness.” The guessing game of which way he'll vote has become fodder for late night television. In recent days, Manchin's opposition helped sink Neera Tanden as President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the federal Office of Management and Budget. Not since Robert Byrd’s death in 2010 has a senator from West Virginia wielded this much influence. Over half a century, Byrd brought home billions of dollars in federal buildings, landmarks and roads, many bearing his name. “This is hardscrabble country, man — our population is dropping, the demise of coal,” said Casey, an attorney and former chair of the state Democratic Party. “We got a guy now who can maybe do something legacy-wise. And I think there’s a lot of hope and some expectation that Joe’s going to do things that are significant, exceptional.” Pam Garrison, a retired cashier, said she told Manchin at a meeting seeking a $15 federal minimum wage that Byrd has universities and hospitals named after him because “when he got into power, he used that power for the good of the people.” “If you do what’s good for the people, even after you’re gone, you’re going to be remembered.” Manchin, though, sees himself not as a seeker of pork-barrel projects but as a champion for policies that aid Appalachia and the Rust Belt. “What we have to do now, and I think it’s appropriate — we show the need, and that the base has been left behind,” he said. He started down that road by joining Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in co-sponsoring a proposal for $8 billion in tax credits to boost clean energy manufacturing for coal communities and the auto industry. Robert Rupp, a political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College, says Manchin can use his position in a 50-50 Senate to put his small state in the forefront of everyone’s mind. “He’s at the centre of attention, and he could assert power,” Rupp said. A former governor, Manchin has deep roots in West Virginia politics. That helps explain why he is the last Democrat to hold statewide office in a state Trump carried twice by large margins. Manchin maintains an air of unpredictability. He opposed a $15 minimum wage provision in the $1.9 billion pandemic stimulus package, even after activists rallied outside his state office in Charleston, leaving some to question his future legacy. “We’re either going to smell like a rose in West Virginia, or we’re going to smell like crap, and it’s going to be attributed to Joseph Manchin,” said Jean Evansmore, 80, an organizer with the Poor People’s Campaign in West Virginia. Days later, the Senate parliamentarian ruled an increase couldn’t be included in the COVID-19 relief bill. That was a win for Manchin and his reverence for Senate customs, including the filibuster, which helps sustain a 60-vote hurdle to advancing most legislation. Manchin has vowed never to support ending the filibuster. On a recent morning in Charleston outside the golden-domed state capitol, saving it was a rallying cry for anti-abortion advocates, who held signs stating, “Thank you Senator Manchin.” “We need to encourage him to stand strong,” said Marilyn Musgrave, who works for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion non-profit. Musgrave's group looks to Manchin now after campaigning against his 2018 bid for a second full term, which he won with just under 50% of the vote. Manchin opposes public funding for abortions but stops short of supporting an outright ban. Still, he typically scores a low rating from abortion-rights groups, which puts him more in line with West Virginians who collectively have sent mixed signals on abortion. With his centrist instincts in such a red state, Manchin has occasionally been the subject of rumours he'll switch parties. “Republicans kind of have this day-dream that just because he’s conservative on some issues that would mean he would jump parties,” Rupp said. That's unlikely, especially given Manchin's newfound clout, he said. And that's fine with Matt Kerner, a 54-year-old West Virginian who wants Manchin to never forget that 16% of the people in his state live below the poverty line, the sixth-highest rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Census. “We're hoping Senator Manchin remembers that he represents some of the poorest people in this country,” Kerner said. Cuneyt Dil, The Associated Press
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Biden and Democratic leaders are pushing for passage before March 14 when unemployment benefits approved under an earlier relief bill expire.
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The Declaration to Travel represents the latest tightening of the most draconian restrictions on movement ever known in peacetime
WASHINGTON — Senate leaders and moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin struck a deal over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a logjam that had stalled the party's showpiece $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide late Friday, seemed to clear the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation. The overall bill, President Joe Biden’s foremost legislative priority, is aimed at battling the killer pandemic and nursing the staggered economy back to health. It would provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans and money for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry and subsidies for health insurance. Shortly before midnight, the Senate began to take up a variety of amendments in rapid-fire fashion. The votes were mostly on Republican proposals virtually certain to fail but designed to force Democrats to cast politically awkward votes. It was unclear how long into the weekend the “vote-a-rama” would last. More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would ship it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval and whisk it to Biden for his signature. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden supports the compromise on jobless payments. Friday's lengthy standoff underscored the headaches confronting party leaders over the next two years — and the tensions between progressives and centrists — as they try moving their agenda through the Congress with their slender majorities. Manchin is probably the chamber’s most conservative Democrat, and a kingmaker in the 50-50 Senate. But the party can’t tilt too far centre to win Manchin’s vote without endangering progressive support in the House, where they have a mere 10-vote edge. Aiding unemployed Americans is a top Democratic priority. But it’s also an issue that drives a wedge between progressives seeking to help jobless constituents cope with the bleak economy and Manchin and other moderates who have wanted to trim some of the bill’s costs. Biden noted Friday's jobs report showing that employers added 379,000 workers — an unexpectedly strong showing. That's still small compared to the 10 million fewer jobs since the pandemic struck a year ago. “Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow," Biden said. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery." The overall bill faces a solid wall of GOP opposition, and Republicans used the unemployment impasse to accuse Biden of refusing to seek compromise with them. “You could pick up the phone and end this right now,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of Biden. But in an encouraging sign for Biden, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 70% of Americans support his handling of the pandemic, including a noteworthy 44% of Republicans. The House approved a relief bill last weekend that included $400 weekly jobless benefits — on top of regular state payments — through August. Manchin was hoping to reduce those costs, asserting that level of payment would discourage people from returning to work, a rationale most Democrats and many economists reject. As the day began, Democrats asserted they'd reached a compromise between party moderates and progressives extending emergency jobless benefits at $300 weekly into early October. That plan, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., also included tax reductions on some unemployment benefits. Without that, many Americans abruptly tossed out of jobs would face unexpected tax bills. But by midday, lawmakers said Manchin was ready to support a less generous Republican version. That led to hours of talks involving White House aides, top Senate Democrats and Manchin as the party tried finding a way to salvage its unemployment aid package. The compromise announced Friday night would provide $300 weekly, with the final check paid on Sept. 6, and includes the tax break on benefits. During the “vote-a-rama," the Senate narrowly passed an amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that would have extended the $300 unemployment insurance benefit to July 18. But Portman's victory was short-lived and the proposal was cancelled out when the chamber subsequently passed the unemployment insurance proposal worked out by the Democrats. Before the unemployment benefits drama began, senators voted 58-42 to kill a top progressive priority, a gradual increase in the current $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $15 over five years. Eight Democrats voted against that proposal, suggesting that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and other progressives vowing to continue the effort in coming months will face a difficult fight. That vote began shortly after 11 a.m. EST and was not formally gaveled to a close until nearly 12 hours later as Senate work ground to a halt amid the unemployment benefit negotiations. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell chided Democrats, calling their daylong effort to work out the unemployment amendment a “spectacle." “What this proves is there are benefits to bipartisanship when you're dealing with an issue of this magnitude," McConnell said. Republicans criticized the overall relief bill as a liberal spend-fest that ignores that growing numbers of vaccinations and signs of a stirring economy suggest that the twin crises are easing. “Democrats inherited a tide that was already turning.” McConnell said. Democrats reject that, citing the job losses and numerous people still struggling to buy food and pay rent. “If you just look at a big number you say, ‘Oh, everything's getting a little better,'" said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It's not for the lower half of America. It's not." Friday's gridlock over unemployment benefits gridlock wasn't the first delay on the relief package. On Thursday Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., forced the chamber's clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill, an exhausting task that took staffers 10 hours and 44 minutes and ended shortly after 2 a.m. EST. Democrats made a host of other late changes to the bill, designed to nail down support. They ranged from extra money for food programs and federal subsidies for health care for workers who lose jobs to funds for rural health care and language assuring minimum amounts of money for smaller states. In another late bargain that satisfied moderates, Biden and Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday to make some higher earners ineligible for the direct checks to individuals. ___ Associated Press staff writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report. Alan Fram, The Associated Press
NAJAF, Iraq — Pope Francis met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most senior clerics in Shiite Islam, in Iraq's holy city of Najaf on Saturday to deliver a message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq's long-beleaguered Christian minority. The historic meeting in al-Sistani's humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah's office and the Vatican. When the time came, the 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy, led by a bullet-proof vehicle, pull up along Najaf’s narrow and column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shiites. He then walked the few meters (yards) to al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades. A group of Iraqis wearing traditional clothes welcomed him outside. As a masked Francis entered the doorway, a few white doves were released in a sign of peace. The closed-door meeting was to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious and other matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. For Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority, a show of solidarity from al-Sistani could help secure their place in Iraq after years of displacement — and, they hope, ease intimidation from Shiite militiamen against their community. The visit was being carried live on Iraqi television, and residents cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders. ”We welcome the pope’s visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It is an historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people.” Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and met with senior government officials on the first-ever papal visit to the country, aimed at promoting his call for greater fraternity among all peoples. It is also his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and his meeting Saturday marked the first time a pope had met a grand ayatollah. On the few occasions where he has made his opinion known, the notoriously reclusive al-Sistani has shifted the course of Iraq's modern history. In the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion he repeatedly preached calm and restraint as the Shiite majority came under attack by al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists. The country was nevertheless plunged into years of sectarian violence. His 2014 fatwa, or religious edict, calling on able-bodied men to join the security forces in fighting the Islamic State group swelled the ranks of Shiite militias, many closely tied to Iran. In 2019, as anti-government demonstrations gripped the country, his sermon lead to the resignation of then-prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Iraqis have welcomed the visit and the international attention it has given the country as it struggles to recover from decades of war and unrest. Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group in 2017 but still sees sporadic attacks. It has also seen recent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias against U.S. military and diplomatic facilities, followed by U.S. airstrikes on militia targets in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. The violence is linked to the standoff between the U.S. and Iran following Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and its imposition of crippling sanctions on Iran. ___ Winfield reported from Ur, Iraq. Associated Press writer Samya Kullab in Baghdad contributed. Anmar Khalil And Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press
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He had enrolled himself for vaccination when the program started and visited the zonal hospital to get the vaccine early in the morning to avoid security concerns. He was administered with AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine.The Dalai Lama, after getting the dose, appealed to everyone eligible to get vaccinated as well as to take care of their health.India allowed vaccination for general public from March 01. In the second phase, India is vaccinating those over the age of 60 years and 45 years plus with co-morbidities.In 1959 failed uprising of Tibet, which was brutally suppressed by the Chinese government, thousands of Tibetans fled to India, including their spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Since then, he has been running a parallel government from his hilly abode in Dharamsala.