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Senator Manchin delivers potential fatal blow to Biden’s $1.75 trln spending bill

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US Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who is key to President Joe Biden’s hopes of passing a $1.75 trillion domestic investment bill, said on Sunday he would not support the package, drawing a sharp rebuke from the White House.
Manchin appeared to deal a fatal blow to Biden’s signature domestic policy bill, known as Build Back Better, which aims to expand the social safety net and tackle climate change.

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“I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation,” Manchin said in an interview with the “Fox News Sunday” program, citing concerns about inflation. “I just can’t. I have tried everything humanly possible.”
He then released a statement accusing his party of pushing for an increase in the debt load that would “drastically hinder” the ability of the country to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and geopolitical threats.
“My Democratic colleagues in Washington are determined to dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face,” Manchin said.
The White House responded angrily, accusing him of breaking his promise to find common ground and get the bill passed.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Manchin’s comments “represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position.” Biden’s administration would find a way to move forward with the legislation in 2022, she said.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said late on Sunday that lawmakers should “stay at the table to pass the Build Back Better Act.” She acknowledged that “we may not have a law by the end of the year.”
“While it is disappointing that we may not have a law by the end of the year, we are hopeful that we will soon reach agreement so that this vital legislation can pass as soon as possible next year,” Pelosi said.
Many Democrats feel the bill is essential to the party’s chances of maintaining control of Congress in next year’s elections.
The White House had hoped to keep negotiations cordial and private to avoid alienating Manchin, who represents West Virginia, a state that Biden lost to former President Donald Trump by almost 40 percentage points in the 2020 election.
But many top Biden allies believe Manchin is damaging the Democratic president’s political future, and Psaki’s public rebuke of the senator suggested a new phase in Biden’s push for legislation he regards as essential to his legacy.
Manchin’s comments also drew outrage from liberal Democrats.
“Let’s be clear: Manchin’s excuse is bullshit,” US Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said on Twitter.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who helped shape the bill, called for a vote to be held on the package of measures anyway.
The bill would raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations to pay for a host of programs to thwart climate change, boost healthcare subsidies, and provide free childcare.
Biden has argued that lowering such costs is critical at a time of rising inflation and as the economy recovers from the fallout of the coronavirus. Republicans say the proposed legislation would increase the federal deficit, fuel inflation and hurt the economy.

Uphill struggle

Manchin’s support is crucial in a chamber where the Democrats have the slimmest margin of control and Republicans are united in their opposition to the bill.
Even if Manchin were somehow convinced to back the bill, the White House would still have to win over Senator Kyrsten Sinema, another moderate Democrat who has not committed to supporting it.
Though talks with Manchin had been going poorly, Biden’s aides had expressed confidence in recent days that they would eventually secure a deal.
Sanders, a democratic socialist who is aligned with Democrats in the Senate, told CNN he thought there should still be a vote on the legislation, despite Manchin’s opposition.
“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world,” Sanders said.
Biden last month signed into law a $1 trillion infrastructure bill designed to create jobs by dispersing money to state and local governments to fix crumbling bridges and roads and by expanding broadband internet access.
Liberal Democrats in Congress had pushed for the coupling of the Build Back Better legislation with the infrastructure bill in the hope of ensuring the passage of the former.
Pelosi, a Democrat, led an effort in September to decouple the two bills.
“This is exactly what we warned would happen if we separated Build Back Better from infrastructure,” Omar said on Twitter.

Read more: US House panel set to advance Biden’s giant tax, spending draft bill

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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US commits to helping Saudi Arabia, Gulf partners defend against threats from Yemen

Libyan eastern parliament speaker calls for new government

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