10 things you need to know today: May 20, 2022
Biden cheers Finland and Sweden NATO applications, the Senate approves the $40 billion Ukraine aid package, and more
Biden hosts Finland, Sweden leaders to boost NATO bids
President Biden met with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House on Thursday to discuss their applications to join NATO, a decision prompted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biden and the leaders of the long-neutral Baltic nations called for NATO's 30 members to quickly welcome Sweden and Finland into the Western military alliance. "Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger," Biden said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Thursday that his country will oppose the NATO expansion. He says Finland and Sweden have supported groups Turkey considers to be terrorists, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party. NATO said it is working to address Erdogan's stated concerns.
Senate approves $40 billion Ukraine aid package
The Senate on Thursday approved a $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. The measure now goes to President Biden for his signature. The package marks a major escalation of the U.S.'s commitment to helping Ukraine resist Russia's invasion. It provides $24 billion for Ukrainian forces and $5 billion for countries hurt by disrupted Ukrainian crop exports. The Senate vote was 86 to 11, with some Republicans balking at the price tag. "Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger cost should Ukraine lose," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the vote sent Ukrainians the message that "help is on the way."
Biden lands in South Korea on trip to reassure Asia allies
President Biden arrived in South Korea on Friday, starting a five-day tour of Asia, the first of his presidency. Biden will use the trip to assure allies in the region of his administration's support in response to China's increasing influence. He is expected to start in his first speech in South Korea by calling for Congress to approve a bill seeking to boost U.S. competitiveness against China. The administration is trying to show "that America is back as a global leader," said Georgetown scholar Evan Medeiros, who served as an Asia adviser to President Barack Obama. "It's, 'Hey, I'm not going to forget about you; this is not a choice between Europe and Asia.'"
Oklahoma legislature passes bill banning most abortions after fertilization
Oklahoma state lawmakers on Thursday approved an anti-abortion bill that would prohibit all abortions after "fertilization," allowing individuals to sue providers and anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion except when necessary to save the life of a pregnant person, or in cases of rape or incest. Abortion providers say the bill, the latest passed in Republican-controlled states, will be the most restrictive ban in the nation once Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) signs it, as he has indicated he will. The 73-16 vote came after the leak earlier this month of a draft decision suggesting the Supreme Court's conservative majority is poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion rights nationwide.
Grand jury indicts Buffalo massacre suspect on murder charge
A grand jury on Thursday indicted Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old white man accused of killing 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket, on a first-degree murder charge. Federal prosecutors also are expected to charge Gendron, who posted a white-supremacist manifesto online before the attack, with hate crimes. Gendron is being held without bail. He pleaded not guilty. As he left the courtroom, someone shouted, "Payton, you're a coward!" Investigators believe Gendron traveled two hours from home and chose to gun people down at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo because he wanted to kill as many Black people as possible. A funeral will be held Friday for Heyward Patterson, 67, one of the victims.
Jan. 6 committee asks GOP lawmaker to explain Capitol tour
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack said Thursday it is examining evidence that Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk (Ga.) led a tour of the building the day before the riot. Republican lawmakers have said security footage indicated there "were no tours... no one with MAGA hats on" at the Capitol complex the day before a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building. The committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a letter requesting Loudermilk's voluntary cooperation that evidence suggested he led a tour on Jan. 5, raising questions about whether outside groups gathered information about the Capitol's layout before the attack.
CDC signs off on Pfizer booster for children age 5 to 11
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday announced its final endorsement of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster shots for children ages 5 to 11. The decision came hours after a CDC advisory committee voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing the third vaccine dose for children in that age group. The CDC said they should get a booster at least 5 months after their second shot. The approval for the Pfizer booster, the first authorized for children under 12, came as the Omicron subvariant BA.2 and an offshoot called BA.2.12.1 fuel rising COVID cases. Vaccination rates for children ages 5 to 11 lag behind other age groups, "leaving them vulnerable to serious illness," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.
Barr discussing testifying to Jan. 6 committee
Bill Barr, former President Donald Trump's attorney general, is discussing testifying before the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump's supporters, Axios reported Thursday, citing two sources with direct knowledge of the situation. CNN reported that Barr has "tentatively agreed to give sworn testimony behind closed doors," according to two sources familiar with the negotiations. Barr talked informally at his home last fall with committee lawyers and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the panel's vice chair, about his interactions with Trump before and after the November 2020 election. Barr told Trump on Dec. 1, 2020, that his claim that the election was stolen from him was "bullshit."
More experts warn U.S. economy on brink of recession
A growing number of banks and economists are warning that the U.S. economy could be heading toward a recession in the next year, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Early this week, an ex-Goldman Sachs chief executive warned of the "very, very high risk of recession," and Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said there was "no question" a downturn is coming. Former Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke warned of possible stagflation, combining a slowing economy and high inflation. "Recession risks are high — uncomfortably high — and rising," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told the Post. "For the economy to navigate through without suffering a downturn, we need some very deft policymaking from the Fed and a bit of luck."
Sri Lanka defaults on its debts
Sri Lanka has defaulted on its debts for the first time in its history as it faces economic and political troubles triggered by COVID-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, The Guardian reported Thursday. The governor of Sri Lanka's central bank said it's in a "preemptive default" after the deadline passed for making $78 million worth of payments to international creditors. A default, which occurs when a government is unable to repay some or all of its debt payments, can have a damaging effect on a country's reputation, currency, and economy. "Our position is very clear," central bank governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said Thursday: "Until there is a debt restructure, we cannot repay."