Biden marks imminent ‘tragic milestone’ of 1m US Covid deaths in address to global summit – as it happened

Biden: ‘We have to prevent Covid-19 complacency’

Joe Biden marked the imminent “tragic milestone” of 1m deaths in the US in his address to the second global Covid-19 summit this morning, and renewed his call to Congress to strike a deal on a coronavirus relief package.

Biden highlighted the urgency of his $22.5bn request, which he says is crucial to fund vaccines, treatments and testing domestically, as well as boosting global efforts to end the emergency:

Today, we’re at a new stage in fighting this pandemic, facing an evolving set of challenges. We have to double down on our efforts to get shots in people’s arms, country by country, community by community, ensure we have reliable and predictable supplies of vaccines and boosters for everyone, everywhere, expand access globally to testing and treatments. And we have to prevent complacency.

Biden’s demand of US lawmakers has stumbled, one of a number of growing headaches for the president amid crises over inflation and abortion rights. An on-again, off-again bipartisan Covid deal was scuppered by political wrangling over immigration specifically.

Republicans agreed to a $10bn compromise “in principle”, without money for global initiatives, then backed out when the Biden administration insisted on pushing ahead with the termination of the Trump-era Title 42 policy that blocked refugees at the southern border because of coronavirus concerns.

As long as COVID-19 is present in one country, it impacts all of us. This morning I join @USAmbUN at the Second Global COVID Summit to discuss our path forward. Tune in.

— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) May 12, 2022

Officially, the Covid-19 death toll in the US is not yet at 1m, Johns Hopkins reporting on Thursday a tally of 999,000.

But the inevitable reaching of that grim figure in the coming few days fired Biden’s new call to action, at home and internationally:

I continue to call on Congress to take urgent action to provide emergency Covid-19 funding that is vital to protect Americans, to make sure that we maintain our supplies and Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, including next-generation vaccines that are being developed.

The request also includes $5bn to keep up our global partnership in the fight against Covid-19 and sustain our efforts to get shots in people around the world, expand access to treatments and save lives everywhere.

We can do this, we can control Covid-19, we can start to build a better, healthier and more secure future today if we all do our part, and if we step up together.

He announced new global initiatives including sharing of US Covid-19 technologies, partnerships to expand access to rapid testing and antiviral treatments in harder to reach areas, and $450m seed funding for a pandemic preparedness and global health security fund to be established this summer:

The US has provided more than $19bn to help countries fight Covid-19, life saving medicines, oxygen, tests, equipment, supplies, and partnered with countries to improve their capacity to manufacture vaccines.

We’ve delivered more than 500m vaccines to 115 countries and we’re going to… deliver another 500m doses.

But there’s still so much left to do. This pandemic isn’t over. We mark a tragic milestone here in the US, 1m empty chairs around the family dinner table, irreplaceable losses that each leave behind a family or community forever change because of this pandemic.

Read the White House proclamation on 1m Covid-19 deaths here.

Updated at 10.00 EDT

Closing summary

Thanks for joining us for a whirlwind day in US politics! We’re closing this blog now, but you can keep on top of developments in the Ukraine-Russia conflict in our 24-hour live blog here.

In a solemn start to the day, Joe Biden marked the imminent “tragic milestone” of 1m Covid-19 deaths in the US, and used the second global Covid-19 summit to renew his call for Congress to approve a deal on a relief package.

“There’s still so much left to do. This pandemic isn’t over,” the president said.

“We mark a tragic milestone. One million empty chairs around the family dinner table, irreplaceable losses that each leave behind a family or community forever changed because of this pandemic”.

Biden ordered flags to fly at half-mast around the country until the end of the weekend.

Here’s what else we followed today:

  • Joe Biden is considering a visit to the Korean demilitarized zone, when he makes the first trip to Asia of his presidency, White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated.
  • Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell urged senators from both parties to pass a $40bn Ukraine aid package, although objections in the chamber looked set to delay the vote.
  • Federal prosecutors opened a grand jury investigation into Donald Trump’s handling of classified White House material.
  • The House committee investigating the 6 January Capitol attack incited by Trump subpoenaed the Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and four other congressmen.
  • Nancy Pelosi explained why Democrats rejected legislation proposed by Republican senators that would codify abortion rights, claiming states would still have too much power in determining women’s right to choose.
  • The nine US supreme court justices met for the first time since last week’s leak of the draft opinion that would overturn almost half a century of abortion protections.

Trip by Biden to DMZ between North and South Korea being considered – White House

Joanna Walters

Joanna Walters

Joe Biden is considering a visit to the Korean demilitarized zone, when he makes the first trip to Asia of his presidency, White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated moments ago.

The US president plans a trip to South Korea and Japan later this month. It came up at the briefing at the White House today, which is still underway, that Biden may go to the narrow neutral zone between North and South Korea.

The Biden administration also believes North Korea could be preparing for a new significant missile test, Psaki indicated.

A reporter asked: Does [Biden] intend to visit the DMZ and what’s your current assessment of the threat of a North Korean nuclear test?

Psaki responded:

Well, on the first question, we’re still finalizing details of the schedule for the trip and what it looks like. Obviously, that is a step that is taken by many who visit the region. But I expect we’ll have our national security adviser here in the briefing room next week with Karine [Jean-Pierre] to preview the trip.

In terms of whether we expect a test. The United States assesses that [North Korea] could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month.

This would be its seventh such test. We’ve shared this information with allies and partners and are closely coordinating with them.

As you noted, the president is traveling to the Republic of Korea and Japan next week, where he will continue strengthening these alliances and make clear our commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea.

The trip to Asia is scheduled from May 20 to May 24.

In 2019, then-president Donald Trump became the first incumbent US president to step into North Korea, after entering the DMZ, and he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

There was no tangible outcome from the meeting, in terms of North Korea pulling back on its nuclear weapons program or other issues.

Updated at 16.37 EDT

Joe Biden has spoken with retailers and manufacturers to address a chronic shortage of baby formula in stores nationwide, the White House has said.

In her afternoon briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said the president demanded that safe supplies be restored as soon as possible.

Earlier today, leading manufacturer Abbott Laboratories warned it could take two months for its products to reach shelves after a nationwide recall.

Psaki said Biden spoke with chief executives of Walmart and Target to focus on restocking shelves, and said the administration would be looking at improving supplies through more imports, as well as asking the the federal trade commission and state attorneys general to clamp down on price gouging:

We’ve already seen an increase in supply over the past couple of weeks. What we are seeing, which is an enormous problem, is hoarding, people hoarding because they’re fearful, and people hoarding because they are trying to profit off fearful parents.

We do not want parents, mothers, families out there to be stressed and worried about feeding their babies.

Our message to parents is we hear you, we want to do everything we can, and we’re going to cut every element of red tape to help address this and make it better.

Maya Yang

Ahead of huge protests planned this weekend against the prospect of Roe v Wade being overturned, US attorney general Merrick Garland has announced ramped up security for the Supreme Court justices.

“The Attorney General directed the U.S. Marshals Service to help ensure the Justices’ safety by providing additional support to the Marshal of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Police,” the Department of Justice said in a press statement on Wednesday.

The attorney general’s orders came after more than 100 protestors marched earlier this week to the home of Justice Samuel Alito. Alito wrote the 98-page draft opinion about Roe v Wade, leaked to Politico and published on May 2.

Pro-Abortion rights advocates stage a protest outside the house of Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito in the Fort Hunt neighborhood, in Alexandria, Virgina, USA, 09 May 2022.
Pro-Abortion rights advocates stage a protest outside the house of Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito in the Fort Hunt neighborhood, in Alexandria, Virgina, USA, 09 May 2022. Photograph: Kent Nishimura/EPA

The final court decision on whether to remove the constitutional right to seek an abortion in the US, afforded by the landmark 1973 Roe ruling, is expected next month.

In addition to Alito, protestors also gathered outside the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts, even though he was not one of the five conservative justices from the nine-member bench, who signed onto the draft opinion.

And there were also demonstrations outside the home of justice Brett Kavanaugh, who did sign on, in the draft opinion, to overturn Roe.

According to federal statute Title 18, Section 1507 of the US code, it is illegal to picket or parade “in or near a building or residence occupied or used by such judge, juror, witness, or court officer” with the “intent of influencing any judge.”

On Monday, senators swiftly passed the Supreme Court Police Parity Act which seeks to expand protection of the justices and their families. The bill is awaiting to be passed onto the House where if approved, will then be transferred to the president for his signature.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that protests “should never include violence, threats, or vandalism.”

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

Workers took Donald Trump’s name off his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC on Wednesday, after the completion of the $375m sale of the lease to investors from Florida.

House Democrats estimate the former president, under legal and financial pressure on multiple fronts, will reportedly gain $100m from the sale, once a loan for the renovations is paid off.

One ethics group called the hotel “a sinkhole of corruption”. During Trump’s four years in the White House, the hotel became a magnet for aides, supporters and foreign businesses seeking favour.

Critics and ethics groups were particularly concerned about the situation as Trump did not formally divest himself from the Trump Organization. The presidential historian Michael Beschloss predicted that even after the sale “political ghosts will linger”.

The hotel lost more than $70m in the four years of Trump’s presidency, including losses each year before pandemic shutdowns in 2020. Many hotel brokers, owners and consultants did not expect the 263-room hotel, located close to the White House, to fetch such a high price.

The price of the lease, equivalent to more than $1.4m a room, has drawn scrutiny from Democrats in Congress. The New York Times reported that JLL, a real estate firm, put the average sales price for hotels in Washington in 2020 at $354,000 per room.

CGI Merchant Group, the buyer, reportedly plans to turn the hotel into a branch of the Waldorf Astoria hotel chain. Earlier this month, the House oversight committee requested documents from CGI, listing all investors, which reportedly include the former New York Yankees slugger and confessed drugs cheat Alex Rodriguez.

Read more:

$40bn Ukraine aid package facing Senate delay

Senators were urged to pass a $40bn package of military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine by the end of the day, despite last-minute obstacles placed by rogue Republicans.

Democratic and Republican leaders tried clearing the way for its passage Thursday afternoon, the Associated Press reports. The measure passed the House 368-57 on Tuesday.

Mitch McConnell.
Mitch McConnell. Photograph: Samuel Corum/EPA

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell called on “both sides to help us pass this urgent funding bill today”.

The Kentucky Republican’s pointed inclusion of his own colleagues came as the only apparent stumbling block seemed to be a demand from Rand Paul, the state’s other senator, for an inspector general to scrutinize the new spending.

“I’m not allowing a speedy passage of the bill without having something fiscally responsible in the bill,” Paul told reporters.

New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, the senate majority leader, backed McConnell’s call:

Republicans shouldn’t block this bill. There is no reason, no reason whatever, not to get Ukraine funding approved fast.

Joe Biden has promised to quickly sign the bill, which he says is crucial to keep military aid, including howitzer artillery and other weaponry, flowing to Ukraine.

McConnell said:

Helping Ukraine is not an instance of mere philanthropy. It bears directly on America’s national security and vital interests that Russia’s naked aggression not succeed and carries significant costs.

Updated at 16.01 EDT

In probably the least surprising development of an already toxic Republican senate primary race in Pennsylvania, Donald Trump has weighed in to savage a rival – albeit a far-right one – challenging his favored candidate, the television personality Mehmet Oz.

The recipient of Trump’s snark is the self-declared “America First” hopeful Kathy Barnette, a political commentator who has surged in popularity in recent weeks to a point where, according to Axios, Republicans are “panicking” she might actually win.

Kathy Barnette.
Kathy Barnette. Photograph: Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

Barnette, who claims she was the product of her mother’s rape at the age of 11, has a long history of controversial and extremist views. She is in the almost certainly unique position of being a Black Republican who has drawn criticism from all wings of the party, from Trump to Pat Toomey, the moderate senator whose retirement has opened up the Pennsylvania seat.

“Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats,” Trump declares in his statement, littered as always with unorthodox grammar and punctuation, and random uppercase letters.

“She has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted, but if she is able to do so, she will have a wonderful future in the Republican Party – and I will be behind her all the way.

“Dr Oz is the only one who will be able to easily defeat the Crazed, Lunatic Democrat in Pennsylvania. A vote for anyone else in the Primary is a vote against Victory in the Fall!”

Oz has a narrow advantage in the polls for the 17 May primary over Barnette and David McCormick, an Army veteran and George W Bush administration official favored by many mainstream Republicans.

But Maga voters, as the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington found at a Trump rally in Greensburg earlier this month, don’t quite know what to make of him.

Exactly who is the “crazed lunatic” Trump refers to is anyone’s guess. There are four candidates for the Democratic nomination, including congressman Conor Lamb and Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor John Fetterman.

Interim summary

It’s been a lively morning so far in US political news and there is more to come, so do stay tuned.

Here’s where things stand:

  • Federal prosecutors have opened a grand jury investigation into Trump’s handling of classified White House material, the NYT reports
  • The House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots subpoenaed Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, along with other lawmakers on Thursday
  • House speaker Nancy Pelosi has explained why Democrats rejected legislation proposed by Republican senators that would codify abortion rights, saying: “What’s in the Republican bill would enable states to do very destructive things when it comes to a woman’s right to choose”
  • All nine US Supreme Court justices are meeting for the first time on Thursday since last week’s leak of the draft opinion that would overrule Roe v Wade
  • Joe Biden has marked the “tragic milestone” of 1m Covid-19 deaths in the US by renewing his calls to Congress to strike a deal on a relief package

Updated at 14.40 EDT

Prosecutors pursue inquiry into Trump’s handling of classified material – NYT

Joanna Walters

Joanna Walters

Federal prosecutors have opened a grand jury investigation to try to establish whether Donald Trump mishandled classified White House materials that he had access to while he was the president and that have since been found at Mar-a-Lago, the residence he moved to after he lost the election to Joe Biden, the New York Times reports.

The outlet speaks of an “intensifying inquiry” indicating that the Department of Justice is looking into how Trump and senior aides handled sensitive documents in the dying days of the Republican’s one-term presidency.

It writes:

In recent days, the Justice Department has taken a series of steps showing that its investigation has progressed beyond the preliminary stages. Prosecutors issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration to obtain the boxes of classified documents, according to the two people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The authorities have also made interview requests to people who worked in the White House in the final days of Mr. Trump’s presidency, according to one of the people.

The investigation is focused on the discovery by the National Archives in January that at the end of Mr. Trump’s term he had taken to his home at the Mar-a-Lago resort 15 boxes from the White House that contained government documents, mementos, gifts and letters.

After the boxes were returned to the National Archives, its archivists found documents containing “items marked as classified national security information,” the agency told Congress in February. In April, it was reported that federal authorities were in the preliminary stages of investigating the handling of the classified documents.

The intensifying inquiry suggests that the Justice Department is examining the role of Mr. Trump and other officials in his White House in their handling of sensitive materials during the final stages of his administration. @maggieNYT @nytmike

— Adam Goldman (@adamgoldmanNYT) May 12, 2022

Hugo Lowell

The select committee empowered the panel’s chairman, congressman Bennie Thompson, to move ahead with subpoenas to House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans including Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, and Andy Biggs and Mo Brooks, the sources said.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) exits the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2022.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) exits the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2022. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

Members on the select committee empowered Thompson to take the extraordinary step to subpoena Republican members of Congress after the five flatly refused to accept invitations to provide voluntary assistance to the investigation, the sources said.

The select committee is seeking to compel some of the most sensitive information about Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in its subpoenas to the Republican members of Congress, the sources said.

The Guardian reported earlier this week that the panel was moving closer to issuing subpoenas to Republican members of Congress, appalled at their refusal to assist the investigation in any way despite prima facie connections to the events of 6 January.

What changed for members of the select committee, according to sources familiar with internal deliberations, was that they could no longer ignore what appeared to be deep involvement in Trump’s unlawful schemes to overturn the 2020 election results.

The scope and targets of the subpoenas are not final until the orders are made public, and the sources cautioned that details could still change. But the subpoenas are expected to encompass the contents of the letters seeking voluntary cooperation, they said.

That would indicate the select committee intends to ask McCarthy – the top Republican in the House – about what he knew of the former president’s involvement in, and response to, the Capitol riots, as well as why Trump believed he was at fault for the riot.

It also suggests House investigators are interested in seeking more detail about meetings between Trump and Republican members of Congress at the White House before the Capitol attack where they strategized ways to stop Joe Biden’s certification on 6 January.

House panel investigating Capitol insurrection subpoenas GOP’s McCarthy

Joanna Walters

Joanna Walters

Congressman Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the US House of Representatives, and other lawmakers on Thursday received subpoenas from the House committee investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, an escalation of the panel’s efforts to secure their testimony, Reuters reports.

The January 6 House Select Committee had previously sent letters to Republican lawmakers, asking for their voluntary cooperation with the panel’s investigation.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, April 6, 2022.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, April 6, 2022. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The panel had a renewed interest in McCarthy’s cooperation after new reporting last month showed he had told the Republican leadership days after January 6 that Trump admitted to him at least partial responsibility for the Capitol attack, sources said.

The select committee is particularly focused on whether Trump might have indicated to McCarthy why he believed he was culpable for the Capitol attack, the sources said, and whether the former president knew he may have acted unlawfully on January 6.

A huge, violent mob invaded the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the official certification by a joint session of Congress – ie the Senate and House – of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.

Trump had earlier goaded crowds at a rally near the White House to make their way to Capitol, urging supporters that they needed to “fight like hell” to defend his presidency.

The insurrection ultimately failed and Biden’s win was certified in the early hours of the next day, after lawmakers, media and staff had run for their lives from the deadly rioters.

Updated at 13.59 EDT

Pelosi rejects Republican bill to codify abortion rights

Nancy Pelosi has been explaining why Democrats rejected legislation proposed by Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski that would codify Roe v Wade abortion protections into federal law.

At her weekly briefing, the House speaker spelled out why her party pushed the women’s health protection act, which failed in the US Senate yesterday, instead of backing the more restrictive but still protective reproductive rights act from the pro-choice Republicans, seen as more likely to have attracted bipartisan support.

It’s not enough just to pass a bill to have a compromise. It’s not a compromise, because what’s in the Republican bill would enable states to do very destructive things when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.

Pelosi explained that while both bills would have enshrined into law the basics of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion protections, which the supreme court looks set to reverse, the Democrats’ act would go further.

Nancy Pelosi addresses reporters on Thursday.
Nancy Pelosi addresses reporters on Thursday. Photograph: Mariam Zuhaib/AP

It would, she said, have added the protections given by the 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey ruling, which dealt with other issues including the viability of a fetus and restrictions on how far states could go in tinkering with the provisions of Roe:

This is not a public policy debate that is isolated from the personal impact that it has on the lives of women, whether it’s contraception, whether it’s invitro fertilization, whether it’s a post-miscarriage care, whether its size and timing of a family.

It is personal between a woman, her doctor, her God [and] her family, not the supreme court, or the Congress of the United States.

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

The US was today confirmed as the host of the 2031 men’s Rugby World Cup and the 2033 women’s event.

This is not particularly political news, except Joe Biden formally supported the bid, as we reported here, and has been known to be very enthusiastic about the game, as we reported here. And here.

We (OK, I) have also reported about how politicians from both sides of the aisle have played and loved the game, here, here and elsewhere.

The Guardian is working on a follow-up piece about what the bid announcement might mean for American rugby, and in the course of harvesting statements has spoken both to the Congressional Rugby Caucus (co-chairs Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat of Washington DC and Alex Mooney, Republican of West Virginia).

Statements are awaited. In the meantime Chris Murphy, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, has confirmed he was a college rugby player and said the following:

“I was first introduced to rugby at Williams, and although I wasn’t very good, I loved the sport and made lifelong friends. I am excited that the U.S. will host the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups and look forward to it introducing even more Americans to the game.

For further reading, here’s the US Eagles men’s fly-half or full-back Will Hooley on What This All Means For The Game: