10 things you need to know today: June 17, 2021
Biden and Putin discuss hacking and human rights in high-stakes summit, Congress makes Juneteenth a federal holiday, and more
Biden, Putin discuss cybersecurity, human rights in 1st summit
President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday held their first summit in Geneva, discussing thorny issues without reaching any agreements. The two leaders held separate news conferences afterwards. Both presidents acknowledged that U.S.-Russia relations had fallen to a post-Cold War low. Putin denied Moscow was involved in recent cyberattacks by suspected Russian hackers. Biden warned Putin that the U.S. would not tolerate hacking or election meddling. He also said Russia would face "devastating" consequences if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison, but expressed willingness to work on easing tensions. "This is not a kumbaya moment," Biden said he told Putin. "But it's clearly not in anybody's interest, your country's or mine, for us to be in a situation where we're in another Cold War."
Congress approves making Juneteenth a federal holiday
The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill to establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), one of the bill's bipartisan sponsors, said ahead of the final vote, "what I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom." The Senate unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday, so it goes next to President Biden for his signature. Biden is returning from his first foreign trip as president, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a Senate sponsor, said lawmakers were working with the White House to get the legislation signed quickly.
Fed accelerates timetable for raising interest rates
Federal Reserve leaders left interest rates and economy-boosting bond purchases unchanged Wednesday at the close of their two-day policy meeting, but said they were moving up their timeline for raising rates to keep surging inflation in check. "You can think of this meeting that we had as the 'talking about talking about' meeting," Fed Chair Jerome Powell said. But Powell said the shift did not mean the economy was nearing "liftoff," saying that despite progress on vaccinations and the lifting of business restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic the economy is "not out of the woods" yet. Fed leaders have kept interest rates near zero through the pandemic. They said previously they expected to keep rates there until 2024, but indicated Wednesday they now expect two rate hikes in 2023.
Manchin unveils demands for compromise on voter protections
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key Democratic centrist swing vote, circulated a memo this week spelling out his demands for a voting rights bill every other Democrat in the Senate has sponsored, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. The three-page memo indicated that Manchin would be willing to back the For the People Act, which aims to counter voting restrictions passed by several GOP-controlled state legislatures, with some changes. Manchin's memo said he would back key provisions, including mandating at least two weeks of early voting and preventing partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts, but that he also wanted voter ID requirements that most other Democrats oppose.
Biden administration says transgender and gay students protected by Title IX
Transgender and gay students' rights are protected by Title IX, a federal law barring sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools, the Education Department said Wednesday. The Biden administration policy reversed guidance issued during former President Donald Trump's administration that said LGBTQ+ students were not covered by federal laws against discrimination. "Today, the department makes clear that all students – including LGBTQ+ students – deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive in schools that are free from discrimination," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. The change, announced during Pride Month, came as politicians debate whether transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in sports according to their gender identities.
Heat wave sets records across West
A devastating heat wave scorched much of the West with record high temperatures affecting 50 million people for the third day on Wednesday. The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings covering much of the region, urging people to stay hydrated and not spend too much time outside in "dangerous" peak heat. No deaths had been reported as of Wednesday evening. So far this week, Salt Lake City has tied its record high of 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix, Arizona, and Needles, California, also tied their records of 115 degrees and 121 degrees, respectively, with more extreme weather to come. "Across the desert Southwest extending into California we're still ramping up the temperatures throughout the rest of the week," National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schoening said.
DOJ drops investigation of revelations in Bolton's book
The Justice Department has closed a criminal investigation into whether former National Security Adviser John Bolton illegally revealed classified information in his memoir, written after he left former President Donald Trump's administration, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing Bolton and a court filing. The Trump administration started the investigation, as well as an effort to sue Bolton over profits from the book, which portrayed Trump negatively. Bolton's lawyer, Charles Cooper, said that by dropping the matter the Justice Department, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, was acknowledging that "Trump and his White House officials acted illegitimately" to try to block publication of the book before the 2020 election.
Texas governor announces $250 million 'down payment' on border wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced that the state would spend $250 million as a "down payment" to start building hundreds of miles of border wall on state land and property he asked private owners to donate. The governor's office also said it would crowdsource additional funding from the public. Abbott said the project was necessary to address a "tidal wave" of immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border, which he blamed on President Biden. Abbott signed a letter calling for Biden to return land the Trump administration took for border wall construction that Biden stopped. Abbott said state police would arrest migrants on misdemeanor charges such as trespassing, signaling a possible confrontation with federal authorities over immigration enforcement. Advocacy groups have threatened lawsuits over the arrest policy.
GM, Ford step up electric vehicle push
General Motors announced Wednesday that it would increase its investment in electric- and autonomous-vehicle technologies to $35 billion through 2025, a 75 percent increase over its initial commitment a year and a half ago. The money will help the automaker increase capacity at its car assembly factories and build two new battery plants. "We are investing aggressively in a comprehensive and highly-integrated plan to make sure that GM leads in all aspects of the transformation to a more sustainable future," GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. Rival Ford said it would make its entire Lincoln luxury brand lineup electric or gas-electric hybrid by 2030.
Kim acknowledges 'tense' food shortages in North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un admitted during a Wednesday meeting with senior officials that the country is experiencing dire food shortages. "The people's food situation is now getting tense," he said. Typhoons caused devastating floods in North Korea last year, preventing farms from producing enough grain, Kim said. North Korea closed its borders to keep COVID-19 from spreading, but the country relies on China for food and fuel. Food prices have skyrocketed. In the 1990s, following the fall of the Soviet Union, aid to North Korea dropped, and the country experienced a famine. North Koreans use the term "Arduous March" to refer to their suffering at the time; it is estimated that up to 3 million North Koreans died in the famine.