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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday contended that he was required by law to move $455 billion in unspent emergency pandemic relief money into an account that would lock it away from President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

“It is my intent to completely follow the law, and the law requires the amounts transferred,” Mnuchin said during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington.

Mnuchin has come under fire for demanding that the Federal Reserve return $429 billion in unused funds from the Cares Act in hopes it would help break the logjam on Capitol Hill over additional relief spending. That money, along with an additional $26 billion for company loans that the Treasury Department hasn’t spent, will be placed in the department’s general fund, which can only be tapped with congressional approval.

If the Treasury funds instead remained in its Exchange Stabilization Fund, that would allow Janet Yellen — Biden’s pick to succeed Mnuchin — access without congressional action.

“This is not discretionary,” said Mnuchin, who testified alongside Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. “I urge Congress that if you want to extend this, bring back legislation that authorizes me to do it.”

Powell said at the same hearing that Congress gave the Treasury secretary “sole” authority over the Cares Act funding for the Fed facilities. “We accept that reading of the law,” he said of Mnuchin’s interpretation. The Fed chair noted that the Treasury could still use money in its Exchange Stabilization Fund as the law allows.

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While Republicans have applauded Mnuchin’s move, Democrats and the Federal Reserve have criticized it. The Fed said it should keep the emergency lending facilities intact, while Democrats accused Mnuchin of hamstringing the incoming administration.

“You’ve killed the Cares Act loans that were supposed to be a tool to help smaller businesses and their workers, and buried the money,” Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said.

Senator Bob Menendez, urged Powell not to release the money back to Mnuchin unless the Treasury secretary agrees to keep it accessible to Biden’s administration.

Earlier Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a $908 billion stimulus proposal in an effort to break a months-long impasse that’s now threatening to tip the economy back into contraction.

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Coronavirus Vaccine

Biden will honor 500K US COVID-19 deaths with candle lighting ceremony

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President Biden plans to mark 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the US with a candle lighting ceremony Monday, according to the White House.

The president will deliver a heartfelt speech at sundown at the White House’s Cross Hall to commemorate the grim death toll milestone, Biden’s press schedule said Sunday.

“The president will deliver remarks on the lives lost to COVID-19 in the Cross Hall,” the schedule states.

“[He will then] hold a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at sundown in the South Portico.”

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Biden will honor the lives lost to the illness — which on Sunday hovered just under 500,000, according to state health officials — alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Jill Biden.

Biden and Harris also held a somber ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial a day before taking office last month to honor the 400,000 lives lost to the coronavirus.

“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said at the time.

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Coronavirus Vaccine

Dr. Fauci: Trump Let ‘Terrible Things’ Happen After Our COVID-19 Disagreements

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Dr. Anthony Fauci continues to open up about his experiences working under the Trump administration, revealing the moment he began to lose influence with former President Donald Trump.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Telegraph, the infectious disease specialist recalled a marked shift in his professional relationship with Trump in April or May of last year, once the president began to publicly side with anti-lockdown protesters and back states’ efforts to lift stay-at-home orders.

“My influence with [Trump] diminished when he decided to essentially act like there was no outbreak and focus on re-election and opening the economy,” Fauci, who is now serving as chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, recalled Friday. “That’s when he said, “It’s going to go away, it’s magical, don’t worry about it.”’

Immediately thereafter, he added, “my direct influence on him was negligible. It became more conflictual than productive.”

Over the course of the past year, Fauci has enjoyed broad support from both Democrats and Republicans, and continues to be seen as a touchstone of scientific wisdom amid the ongoing pandemic.

But as the 2020 election drew to a close, Trump publicly lashed out at him and other medical experts even as the COVID-19 death toll continued to spike.

In an October phone call with campaign staffers, the former president deemed Fauci “a disaster.” Weeks later, he told supporters at a Florida rally he was considering firing Fauci “a little bit after” the election.

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In his interview with The Telegraph, Fauci didn’t touch on specific incidents but said having to correct the president’s numerous coronavirus falsehoods, often on live television, led to a gradual falling-out.

“When it became clear that in order to maintain my integrity and to get the right message [across] I had to publicly disagree with him, he did things — or allowed things to happen — that were terrible,” he said.

On the flip side, he offered faint praise for former Vice President Mike Pence, who “really tried his very best to address the outbreak.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Fauci ― who has worked alongside six presidents ― drew parallels between Trump’s handling of the coronavirus to the ways former President Ronald Reagan neglected to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Still, he said, they were “significant differences.”

Reagan “never did anything to obstruct what I was trying to do,” he recalled, while Trump “was putting as much stock in anecdotal things that turned out not to be true as he was in what scientists like myself were saying.”

“That caused unnecessary and uncomfortable conflict where I had to essentially correct what he was saying,” he added, “and put me at great odds with his people.”
(The Huffington Post)

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Biden administration

US President Biden pledges contribution of $4 billion to COVAX; announces ‘America is back’

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President of the United States Joe Biden, on Friday, announced that “America is back” addressing a global audience while virtually addressing the Munich Security Conference.

Stating that the transatlantic alliance was back, the US President remarked that the United States was determined to re-engage with Europe to earn back their position of trusted leadership.

In response to Biden’s remark, European Council President Charles Michel said, “Welcome back, America.”

Biden also was part of a virtual meeting of the Group of Seven industrialised nations (G7) earlier on Friday.

The meeting was attended by top leaders of the seven nations – United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, and Germany.

The virtual meeting was chaired by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

It was the first G7 meeting for US President Biden and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi as head of their countries.

“I participated in the first meeting of the G7 leaders, where I spoke about the dire need to coordinate multilateral action to address Covid-19, the global economic crisis, and the accelerating climate crisis, and so much else. Achieving these goals depend on a core strategic proposition and that is the United States must renew America’s enduring advantages so that we can meet today’s challenges from a position of strength – that is building back better our economic foundations, reclaiming our place in international institutions, lifting up our values at home, and speaking up to defend them around the world,” noted US President Biden in his address.

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At the G7 meeting, Biden pledged US dollars ($) 4 billion in US aid to the COVAX fund which will help buy coronarivus vaccines for global distribution. From this amount, an initial $2 billion will be released in 2021 while the additional $2 billion will be released over the next two years.

According to a statement issued by the G7 leaders, they have pledged an overall commitment of $7.5 billion to the fund, which is a United Nations coronavirus vaccination programme for poorer countries.

“We, the leaders of the Group of Seven, met today and resolved to work together to beat COVID-19 and build back better. Drawing on our strengths and values as democratic, open economies and societies, we will work together and with others to make 2021 a turning point for multilateralism and to shape a recovery that promotes the health and prosperity of our people and planet,” said the leaders jointly, adding, “with increased financial commitments of over $4 billion USD to ACT-A and COVAX, collective G7 support totals $7.5 billion.”

The European Union has doubled its own COVAX funding to one billion euros.
(The Himalayan Times)

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