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President Biden delivers remarks on the omicron variant of Covid-19

Omicron Variant Is ‘Cause For Concern, Not A Cause For Panic’

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Screenshot via NBC News Youtube

WASHINGTON – President Biden delivers remarks on the omicron variant of Covid-19 after meeting with his response team.

FULL TEXT of the President’s remarks.

 Good morning, folks.  I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving -– able to get together with your family and friends.  And it was great to see so many families getting together this Thanksgiving after being apart last year.  And we have much to be grateful for as a nation.
 
When I was elected, I said I would always be honest with you.  So today, I want to take a few moments to talk about the new COVID variant first identified last week in Southern Africa.  It’s called the Omicron. 
 
It is –- and to their credit, the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant.  This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats.  And that’s exactly what we did. 
 
The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa.  But while we have — that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. 
 
But here’s what it does: It gives us time.  It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot.  You have to get the — get the booster if you’re -–
 
Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States.  We’ll have to face this new threat just as we have faced those that have come before it.
 
Today, there are three messages about the new variant that I want the American people to hear. 
 
First, this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.  We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists.  And we’re learning more every single day. 
 
And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions, and speed — not chaos and confusion.  And we have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before — from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children five years and older, and much more.
 
A year ago, America was floundering against the first variant of COVID.  We beat that variant significantly, and then we got hit by a far more powerful threat: the Delta variant.  But we took action, and now we’re seeing deaths from Delta come down.  We’ll fight the –- you know, and –- look, we’re going to fight and beat this new variant as well. 
 
We’re learning more about this new variant every single day.  And as we learn more, we’re going to share that information with the American people candidly and promptly. 
 
Second, the best protection –- I know you’re tired of hearing me say this — the best protection against this new variant or any of the –- of the variants out there -– the ones we’ve been dealing with already — is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot.  Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted.
 
If you’re 18 years or over and got fully vaccinated before June the 1st, go get the booster shot today.  They’re free, and they’re available at 80,000 locations coast to coast.  A fully vaccinated boosted person is the most protected against COVID. 
 
Do not wait.  Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so. 
 
And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to get vaccinated and take your children to be vaccinated.  Every child age five or older can get safe, effective vaccines now. 
 
While it will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know about how strongly the existing vaccines protect against the new variant — Dr. Fauci, who is with me today — of our medical team, and — believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease. 
 
And as an additional protections, please wear your masks when you’re indoors in public settings, around other people.  It protects you; it protects those around you. 
 
Third, in the event — hopefully unlikely — that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool.
 
I want to reiterate: Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection significantly. 
 
We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed.  But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.
 
And I will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available — without cutting any corners for safety — to get such vaccines approved and on the market if needed. 
 
And we will do that the same way if — any modifications are needed or current treatments need — used to help those with — who get ill with the COVID virus. 
 
Look, I’m — I’m sparing no effort and removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.  All of this is confusing to a lot of people.  But if it’s confusing to you, let me close with this simple message: If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster.  If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot.  Go get that first shot.
 
My team at the White House will provide me with daily updates this week.  And on Thursday, I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter — not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more. 
 
I promised every American that there will be — always be the latest vaccines available and the booster shots available to them and for free and — everywhere available.  Every single American, free of charge — and I will keep that commitment. 
 
But we need to do more than vaccinate Americans.  To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well.  And America is leading that effort.  We’ve shipped — for free — more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined: over 275 million vaccines to 110 countries. 
 
Now we need the rest of the world to step up as well.  Let me be clear: Not a single vaccine shot Americans ever send to the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American.  I will always make sure that our people are protected first. 
 
But vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well.
 
The Delta variants and now the Omicron variant all emerged elsewhere in the world.  So we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated.  We’re protecting Americans by doing that as well.
 
As we continue this effort, let’s remember where we stand.  We’re in a very different place as we enter the month of December this month compared to where we were last — last Sept- — last Christmas. 
 
Last Christmas, fewer than 1 percent of American adults were vaccinated.  This Christmas, the number will be over 71 percent, including more than 86 percent of seniors. 
 
Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a vaccine.  This Christmas, we have safe and effective vaccines for children ages five and older, with more than 19 million children and counting now vaccinated. 
 
Last year, a majority of schools were closed.  This year, 99 percent of our schools are open.  And let me reiterate once more: We also now have booster shots that provide extra protection.  They are free and convenient.  There is still time to get your first two shots or your booster shot or get your children vaccinated before Christmas.  All three are available and can be done before Christmas.
 
If you and your family are fully vaccinated, you can celebrate the holidays much more safely.  And given where we were last year, that’s a blessing that none of us should take for granted.
 
We’re throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle.  And that’s what we have to keep doing.  That’s how we reopened our country.  That’s how we reopened our businesses.  That’s how we reopened our schools.  That’s how, even with a pandemic, we’ve generated a record job creation, a record economic growth in this country. 
 
We’ve moved forward in the face of COVID-19.  We have moved forward in the face of the Delta variant.  And we will move forward now in the face of the Omicron variant as well.
 
So thank you.  May God bless our troops.  And I hope you all have — I’ll be speaking before then, but — a Merry Christmas, as we approach it.

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The White House

Biden executive order bolsters efforts to secure release of Americans detained abroad

Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia

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President Joe Biden (C-SPAN screenshot)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed an executive order that will bolster his administration’s efforts to secure the release of Americans who are detained or being held hostage abroad.

The executive order, which is based on the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, a retired FBI agent who Iranian authorities arrested in 2007, reinforces what a press release describes as “the administration’s tool kit in key ways.”

  • Reinforces the U.S. government’s efforts to support families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas;
  • Authorizes agencies to impose costs and consequences, including financial sanctions, on those who are involved, directly or indirectly, in hostage-taking or wrongful detentions to support expanded and ongoing interagency efforts; 
  • Directs relevant parts of the U.S. government to bolster their engagement and sharing of relevant information, including intelligence information, consistent with the protection of sources and methods, with families regarding their loved ones’ status and U.S. Government efforts to secure their release or return, as appropriate; and
  • Charges experts across the interagency to develop options and strategies to deter future hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.

“It reaffirms the fundamental commitment of the president of the administration to bring home those Americans held hostage (and) wrongfully detained abroad,” said senior administration on Monday during a conference call with reporters.

Another senior administration official added the executive order “reinforces U.S. government efforts to support the families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas by directing parts of the federal government to bolster their engagement with such families and their sharing of relevant information, including intelligence information, with families regarding their loved one’s status, and the government’s efforts to secure their release or their return.”

“This EO (executive order) reflects the administration’s commitment not just to the issues generally, but to the families in particular and it has been informed by the government’s regular engagements with them and other stakeholders who have and continue to undertake important constructive advocacy efforts on behalf of their loved ones,” they said. “President Biden and those across the administration will now draw on this EO to advance our efforts and we hope to do so in an active conversation with family members and outside stakeholders.”

The executive order also creates a “D” indicator in the State Department’s travel advisories that notes the countries in which American citizens are at risk for “wrongful detention.” Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela are the first six countries named. 

“We’re committed to provide us citizens with comprehensive safety and security information about foreign countries so they can make informed travel decisions before they before they head overseas,” said another senior administration official during Monday’s conference call. “The United States opposes wrongful detention and the practice of using individuals as political bargaining chips everywhere. These practices we know represent a threat to the safety of all US citizens traveling and living abroad.”

Biden signed the executive order against the backdrop of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s continued detention in Russia.

Brittney Griner (Photo by Kathclick via Bigstock)

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. 

The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Griner’s trial, which began on July 1, continues, even though she has pleaded guilty to charges that she smuggled drugs into the country. The White House is under increased pressure from Griner’s wife and family, teammates and LGBTQ+ activists to secure her release.

A senior administration official on Monday’s call did not directly respond to a question about how the executive order will help secure Griner’s release.

“There are a number of ways in which it would affect cases like that case in the wrongful detainee category,” said the official. “The executive order directs those across the executive branch to share consistent accurate information with the families of those who are deemed wrongfully detained, to ensure that they receive support and assistance throughout the ordeal, and to work with parts of our government to try to impose costs on those responsible.”

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The White House

First Lady Jill Biden addresses LGBTQ+ donors at Equality PAC fundraiser

The Equality PAC is a congressional political action committee led by the openly gay and lesbian members of the U.S. House

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First Lady Jill Biden (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON – First lady Jill Biden expressed solidarity with members of the LGBTQ community Monday at a D.C.-based fundraiser hosted by the Equality PAC, urging action amid fears same-sex marriage is under threat in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Right now we’re fighting the battles we thought we had already won,” Jill Biden said. “And we don’t need to guess where the extremists are going next because they’ve already told us in the Dobbs decision.”

The Equality PAC is a congressional political action committee led by the openly gay and lesbian members of the U.S. House. Among the notables seen in attendance who spoke at the fundraiser were Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who co-chair the caucus. The event was held at the Long View Gallery.

“Progress isn’t a line,” Jill Biden said. “It sometimes feels like an ocean, pushing forward and pulling back. But with time and persistence, the shore of injustice does wear away.”

Jill Biden touted President Biden’s actions on behalf of the LGBTQ community, pointing out he signed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination, ended the transgender military ban, and appointed LGBTQ federal officials. She also mentioned an executive order President Biden signed in June, which included new prohibitions on widely discredited conversion therapy.

The first lady closed the event urging action and expressing solidarity, although she momentarily tripped over the LGBTQ acronym.

“I want you to know that I will be there beside you every step of the way. It won’t be easy,” she said. “The legacy of the LGD – the LGBTQI community is a hope that has never been crushed.”

Takano also spoke at the event and said Equality PAC raised a total of $217,000 at the event and more than $10.8 million this cycle, envisioning wins for Democrats on Election Day despite expectations of Republican gains.

“We are going to keep our majority and I dare say we’re going to expand it,” Takano said.

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The White House

Biden defends human rights commitment before Saudi Arabia trip

Homosexuality punishable by death in kingdom

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President Joe Biden (Screenshot from CSPAN)

JERUSALEM — President Biden on Thursday stressed he has “never been quiet about talking about human rights” in response to a question about whether he will raise them while in Saudi Arabia.

Biden made the comment in response to a reporter’s question during a press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid after their meeting, which took place a day before the U.S. president travels to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

The reporter specifically asked Biden about Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

American intelligence has concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved Khashoggi’s murder. Biden is expected to meet with bin Salman while in the Saudi city of Jiddah, even though the U.S. president previously said he wanted to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month told the Washington Blade during a roundtable with LGBTQ+ and intersex reporters that the State Department has used the “Khashoggi Ban” to sanction more than 70 Saudi citizens and others who have targeted journalists, government critics and others in a third country. Biden on Thursday said his “views on Khashoggi have been made absolutely, positively clear.”

“I always bring up human rights, but my position on Khashoggi has been so clear,” said Biden.

Blinken last month said Biden “will be bringing up rights issues across the board when he’s in Saudi Arabia, as he does in any country where we have or he has concerns.” Blinken further noted the U.S. welcomes the Saudi government’s efforts to combat extremism, counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East and its role in the continued ceasefire in Yemen.

“At the same time, we have been very determined from day one to recalibrate the relationship, not rupture it, recalibrate, because we had concerns that it wasn’t as effectively as it could be advancing our own interests and our own values,” said Blinken. “So, we took the time to do that.”

 “It’s a long way of saying that there are complex issues,” he added. “Human rights, including LGBTQI rights, are something that is central to our foreign policy, but it’s not the totality of it. And everything has to be reflected in what we do and we have to make a judgment, which may be right or may be wrong, about what is the most effective way to advance these issues in this agenda.”

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