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In Georgia for his 100th day in office, Biden kicks off tour to sell his roughly $4T plans

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden celebrated his 100th day in office Thursday at a drive-in car rally in Georgia, kicking off the White House’s “Getting America Back on Track” tour aimed at building support for the president’s roughly $4 trillion investments in the economy and social safety net programs.

Biden’s rally comes on the heels of his first address to Congress Wednesday night, which he used to unveil his American Families Plan, a roughly $1.8 trillion package that includes universal preschool, two years of free community college and expanded access to child care. It is the second phase of Biden’s two-part push to boost the economy, following the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which he announced last month.

Biden’s visit to Georgia also underscored the electoral importance of the state, which narrowly swung for Biden in the presidential race and elected two Democratic senators in January, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, giving Democrats narrow control of the chamber. Without their votes in the Senate, Biden noted, his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would not have passed.

“You know how precious and precarious the right to vote is,” Biden said, nodding to the efforts by President Donald Trump to overturn the election results in Georgia and the more recent efforts by Republican state lawmakers to restrict voting access.

“Your vote changed the world,” he continued, “But instead of celebrating that, it’s being attacked.”

Biden’s trip marked the start of what the administration is calling the “Getting America Back on Track” tour, which White House press secretary Jen Psaki said was designed to “take the case directly to the American people about the vital need for action on the Jobs Plan and the Families Plan.”

Biden will travel to Philadelphia, Pa., on Friday and Yorktown, Va., on Monday. Vice President Kamala Harris was in Baltimore on Thursday, with plans to visit Cincinnati on Friday and Milwaukee on Tuesday. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff will go to Raleigh, N.C., on Friday, and members of Biden’s Cabinet are also expected to travel in the coming days.

In Georgia, Biden highlighted his economic proposals to invest in historically Black colleges and universities, child care and as well as his plans to reduce child poverty, while making the case for raising taxes on the richest Americans in order to fund his agenda.

“It’s about time the very wealthy and corporations start paying their fair share,” Biden said.

Biden’s remarks were briefly interrupted by protesters chanting “end detention now” and “abolish ICE,” appearing to reference border facilities where unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum are being housed. “Our families are dying,” a protester shouted.

Biden responded to one of the shouted comments: “I agree with you. I’m working on it.”

Biden had initially planned to host a drive-in rally in Georgia in March to promote his coronavirus relief package, but canceled the event after a gunman killed eight people — six of whom were women of Asian descent — in a series of spa shootings in the Atlanta area. Biden still visited Atlanta as scheduled, but shifted the focus of his trip to gun violence and the rise in violence against Asian Americans.

Biden applauded the Senate for passing legislation last week targeting anti-Asian hate crimes after an uptick of incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Don’t tell me we can’t make progress,” he said.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden also met privately with President Jimmy Carter, 96, and his wife, Rosalynn, 93, while in Georgia. The Carters were unable to attend Biden’s inauguration in January due the pandemic.

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N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Covid book deal worth more than $5.1 million

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is being paid more than $5.1 million for his book on leadership during the coronavirus crisis, his office said Monday.

The Democratic governor and his office had for months refused to disclose how much he was paid for the book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

State Attorney General Letitia James’ office has been investigating whether the governor misused state resources to write and promote the book.

The governor’s office released the book deal information Monday, when Cuomo released his taxes and filed his state financial disclosure form.

“The notable change from year to year is income from ‘American Crisis,'” Cuomo’s director of communications, Rich Azzopardi, said in a statement.

He said Cuomo was paid $3.12 million last year, and will be paid another $2 million over the next two years.

‎”Net income from the $3,120,000 million payment less expenses and taxes is $1,537,508,” Azzopardi said.

Of the remaining $1.5 million, Cuomo “donated a third to the United Way of New York State for state-wide COVID relief and vaccination effort, and is giving the remainder in a trust for his three daughters equally who worked with the Governor during this pandemic and did what he calls ‘tireless and effective work for all New Yorkers’ and gave him ‘the strength and love to make it through the crisis every day,’” Azzopardi said.

The sum Cuomo is getting from Crown publishing far exceeds the $225,000-a-year salary he makes as governor.

The book, which went on sale in October, has also landed Cuomo in legal trouble.

Last month, the state comptroller’s office authorized the state A.G. to investigate whether Cuomo used staffers and state resources to assist in writing the book, which is prohibited by state law.

Cuomo has insisted that any work by state employees on the book was voluntary. A spokesman has said any work on the book was “in compliance with state ethics laws and done on their personal time.”

James’s office is also investigating multiple sexual harassment allegations against the third-term governor.

Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately, but acknowledged that he may have acted in ways that made people feel uncomfortable. He initially said that was unintentional and apologized, but has more recently said he’d done nothing wrong. He’s pushed back against calls from the vast majority of New York’s congressional delegation that he resign, saying he won’t bow to “cancel culture.”

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Biden tries to navigate shifting Democratic politics on Israel

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is facing down pressure from progressives to take a heavier hand with Israel amid its latest hostilities with the Palestinians.

While Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that Israel has “a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defense,” U.S. officials have not called on their Israeli counterparts to alter or halt their response to Palestinian rocket fire.

That puts the administration at odds with the growing set of Democratic voters and elected officials who are casting a critical eye — and harsh language — at Israel. Those voices reflect a gradual but noticeable shift in the willingness of Democrats to challenge Israeli policy over the last dozen years.

“There is a desire for a more even-handed approach,” said Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications for J-Street, a progressive group that wants the U.S. government to call for an immediate cease-fire and to place new regulations on the nearly $4 billion in aid the U.S. sends each year to Israel. “The Biden administration, at this point in time, does not seem to have gotten that message.”

Hostilities have killed more than 200 people, most of them Palestinians, over the last week, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Sunday that they should be ready for an extended military campaign.

Netanyahu is a political flashpoint within the Democratic Party. During the last Democratic administration, Netanyahu repeatedly thumbed his nose at President Barack Obama — going so far as to rail against the Iran nuclear deal from the House floor.

Then, when President Donald Trump took office in 2017, Netanyahu locked arms with his American counterpart. The two men shared an affinity for nationalist policies and rhetoric, and Trump encouraged Netanyahu to extend Israeli settlements into Palestinian-held territory.

Some progressives want Biden to step in and stop Netanyahu now, and to restrict his ability to use American cash and weapons to fight Palestinians.

“The United States should not stand idly by while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a statement to NBC News. “It would be appalling for the Biden administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians.”

That sale, first reported by The Washington Post, was approved by Biden this month.

“If this goes through, this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a cease-fire,” Omar said.

Omar, elected in 2018, is among a relatively junior set of frequent Israel critics in Congress. What concerns veteran Israel hawks in the Democratic Party is that more moderate lawmakers are publicly questioning Israel’s actions.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and one of Israel’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill, said in a statement over the weekend that there must be a “full accounting” of strikes that led to civilian deaths.

“I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets,” Menendez said.

“In response to thousands of rocket attacks fired by Hamas aimed at civilians, Israel has every right to self-defense from terrorists committed to wipe her off the face of the map,” he added. “But no matter how dangerous and real that threat may be, I have always believed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship flourishes when it is based on the shared values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

A group of Jewish House Democrats last week released a letter to Biden in which they wrote “the United States cannot simply hope and wait for the situation to improve” with “more lives being lost each day.”

Jeremy Bash, a Democrat who served as chief of staff to the defense secretary during the Obama administration, said his party is still fundamentally pro-Israel. He noted that the basic outlines of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians have not changed much in recent years, even as the issue has become more politically fraught within Democratic circles.

“It shouldn’t be, and it’s wrong,” Bash said. “I do worry that it has become that.”

But while the Biden administration has stopped the U.N. Security Council from adopting any policy or statement about the conflict, one former Obama administration national security official said the White House’s effort to at least placate fellow Democrats was evident in Blinken’s remark about Israel’s burden of adhering to a higher standard of protecting civilians.

“You don’t have to parse the language,” the former Obama aide said. “It’s the fact that he said it about Israel, period.”

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Irish Taoiseach launches Brexit attack after showdown with Boris: 'Damage can't be undone'

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BREXIT is a “major step backwards” the damage from which “cannot be undone”, Ireland’s Taoiseach has declared in a blunt assessment of Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, after his crunch meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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