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Rachel Levine criticizes efforts to deny health care to trans youth

Former Pa. health secretary opened Victory Fund conference

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Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks at the Victory Fund's 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Thursday criticized efforts to prevent transgender youth from accessing health care.

“Unfortunately, some have fought to prevent transgender youth from accessing the health care that they need,” she said in a speech she delivered at the opening of the Victory Fund’s 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in downtown D.C. “This is politics and this politics has no place in health care and public health and they defy the established standards of care written by medical experts.”

Levine was Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary until President Biden nominated her to become assistant secretary of health.

She became the first openly trans person confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March. Levine in October became a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

The conference will take place in-person and virtually through Sunday.

The White House

Out head of Customs & Border agency Christopher Magnus resigns

Multiple media outlets reported that Magnus said Friday that he had no plans to step down despite being told to resign

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Christopher Magnus (Screenshot/YouTube KHOU TV Houston, Texas)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Christopher Magnus submitted his resignation to President Joe Biden Saturday evening. Magnus had reportedly been told earlier in the week by U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that he should resign or expect to be fired.

Multiple media outlets reported that Magnus said Friday that he had no plans to step down despite being told to resign by the Homeland Security Secretary.

“I want to make this clear: I have no plans to resign as CBP Commissioner,” Magnus said in a written statement to The Washington Post. “I didn’t take this job as a resume builder. I came to Washington, DC — moved my family here — because I care about this agency, its mission, and the goals of this Administration.”

In his letter of resignation released by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Magnus wrote: “Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Senate confirmed Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection over the past year. It has been a privilege and honor to be part of your administration.

“I am submitting my resignation effective immediately but wish you and your administration the very best going forward. Thank you again for this tremendous opportunity,” Magnus added.

Pressure on the White House to remove the embattled CBP Commissioner came from within the administration as well as from House Republicans on Capitol Hill. Last week a group of House Republicans led by Rep. Jody Hice (Ga.) sent a letter to the president demanding that he remove Magnus after an article in Politico revealed extreme dissatisfaction within the agency.

“According to a recent report by Politico, Commissioner Magnus continually fails to attend high-level meetings regarding the border crisis. Even worse, he was caught sleeping through some of the meetings he actually attended,” wrote the lawmakers in the letter first reported by the Daily Caller.

“The report goes on to detail Commissioner Magnus’ constant complaining about his fellow senior officials in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instead of focusing on the CBP mission to secure our border,” the lawmakers added.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the CBP chief and Homeland Secretary argued over Magnus’s decision not to continue a retention bonus for U.S. Border Patrol agency head Raul Ortiz. The Times also reported Magnus had butted heads with Ortiz as well over how to reform the Border Patrol.

The day before, Magnus also attended a meeting of Border Patrol chiefs after Mayorkas had told him not to go. 

“After me making extensive attempts to reach [Mayorkas] and discuss the matter, I went to the meeting so I could engage with the chiefs on various issues and concerns. I also met with Chief Ortiz to see how we might best work together moving forward,” Magnus told the Times.

When the two finally did meet, Mayorkas encouraged him to resign.

“I expressed to him that I felt there was no justification for me to resign when I still cared deeply about the work I was doing and felt that that work was focused on the things I was hired to do in the first place,” Magnus told the Times.

The Hill noted that Magnus was chosen by the president in part because he spoke out against the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants and its negative effect on relations between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

Still, Magnus’s background in policing rather than immigration and border enforcement raised some questions about his ability to take on a complex agency amid historically high border crossings, The Hill further pointed out.

Magnus is openly gay and married in 2014 to Terrance Cheung, former chief of staff to the mayor of Richmond, Calif.

He was previously chief of police in Tucson, Arizona; Fargo, North Dakota; and Richmond, California and is an outspoken advocate of community policing and of immigration sanctuary cities and states.

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The White House

Biden’s final midterms message at a Maryland College

Biden framed the midterms not as a referendum, but as a choice between two radically different versions of America

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President Joe Biden boards Marine One (Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe)

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. – President Joe Biden on Monday delivered a final message to voters ahead of the midterm elections and urged Marylanders to elect gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore during a rally at Bowie State University in Prince George’s County. 

He was joined at the historically Black university by Moore, first lady Jill Biden, and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). 

“Wes knows what patriotism means,” said the president, who highlighted the combat veteran’s record as an Army captain who served in Afghanistan. 

By contrast, Moore’s opponent Republican Dan Cox, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights opponent, has promoted the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, Biden said, including by calling former Vice President Mike Pence a traitor for certifying Biden’s victory. 

Cox has also been called out by Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for supporting QAnon conspiracy theories. 

Moore delivered similar remarks just before the president took the stage. He pledged not to allow Maryland “to become a state where deciding to honor the results [of an election] depends on what the results are.”

Biden framed the midterms not as a referendum, but as a choice between two radically different versions of America. Republicans, he said, are bent on scrapping Medicare and social security while Democrats will continue to help working families. 

Earlier today, during a virtual reception for the Democratic National Committee, Biden was confident about his party’s electoral prospects. “We have a shot at keeping the Senate and increasing it,” he said, “and I’m optimistic about the House as well.”

At the same time, the president cautioned, “We’re up against some of the darkest forces we’ve ever seen in our history. These MAGA Republicans are a different breed of cat.”

On Sunday, Biden attended a rally in Bronxville, N.Y., for Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who faces a tougher than anticipated challenge from Republican Lee Zeldin. Jill Biden bookended her weekend with an appearance in Houston on behalf of Democratic candidates in Texas’ key down-ballot races. 

Jill Biden also spoke at a rally earlier Monday for U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) who faces off against Republican challenger Hung Cao in a tight race to retain her House seat. 

During a briefing this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed the administration’s message that Democrats have delivered on their agenda to make an economy that works for all Americans while Congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act along with Social Security and Medicare. 

Jean-Pierre reiterated that votes in the midterm elections will not be fully counted for a few days and stressed that federal elections officials are working closely with their local and state counterparts to ensure “safe and secure voting.” 

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The White House

Until Russia makes good-faith effort on Griner, no Biden-Putin meet

Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper, in an interview that aired Tuesday, that he would be open to talking with Putin about Griner’s release

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President Biden with Secretary of State Antony Blinken & Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at NATO summit in June (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden “has no intention” of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month – until and unless Russia engages in negotiations for the release of American WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner. 

“The Russians need to take the serious offer that we put forward on the table, or make a serious counter-offer to negotiate, but in good faith,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing Wednesday. 

Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper, in an interview that aired Tuesday, that he would be open to talking with Putin about Griner’s release. According to a White House pool report Wednesday, the president said progress toward a meeting about Griner’s case had not been made with Putin. 

The two are slated to join other world leaders in Bali from November 15 to 16 for the Group of 20 Summit (“G-20”).  

Griner has been detained in Moscow since February – “wrongfully,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in May – over vape cannisters containing cannabis oil that were allegedly found in her luggage. 

In August, the WNBA player was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. A court will hear her appeal on October 25. Her lawyer told The New York Times on Wednesday that she fears she will serve the entirety of her sentence in Russia despite efforts to arrange a prisoner swap. 

“She has not been in as good condition as I could sometimes find her in,” said her lawyer, Alexandr Boykov, who added it has been difficult for Griner to arrange phone calls with her wife Cherelle and other members of her family. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have spoken with Cherelle Griner.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this summer that United States had “put a substantial proposal on the table” – an offer that reportedly would free imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American whom officials say was wrongfully detained on espionage charges. 

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The White House

Los Angeles’ crisis of governance: Biden calls for resignations

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, called the language recorded during the conversation “unacceptable” and “appalling”

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Karine Jean-Pierre White House Press Secretary (Los Angeles Blade file screenshot)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden, who will be traveling to California on Wednesday, has called for the resignations of the Los Angeles City Councilmembers caught on a leaked audio recording from last year using racist and homophobic slurs.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, called the language recorded during the conversation “unacceptable” and “appalling.” and said “they all should” resign.

She indicated that President Biden believes Nury Martinez and her fellow councilmembers Kevin de León and Gill Cedillo should resign over the remarks heard in the leaked recordings first reported on by the Los Angeles Times Sunday.

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The White House

President Biden pardons federal marijuana possession charges

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs”

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President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

POUGHKEEPSIE, Ny. – President Biden traveling in New York state on Thursday announced that he was granting a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.

Taking aim at federal conviction rates for marijuana possession, Biden noted in a statement released by the White House, “while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

This announcement by the president comes roughly a month before the midterm elections that will decide whether the president’s party can hold on to control of Congress. Democratic and progressive candidates have pushed the administration for action on this issue which which many Democratic activists have long called for.

The White House estimates will affect more than 6,500 people and in conjunction with his action today Biden is asking that all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.

Statement from President Biden on Marijuana Reform

As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana.  Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.  And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.
 
Today, I am announcing three steps that I am taking to end this failed approach.
 
First, I am announcing a pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana.  I have directed the Attorney General to develop an administrative process for the issuance of certificates of pardon to eligible individuals.  There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result.  My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions.
 
Second, I am urging all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.  Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either.
 
Third, I am asking the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.  Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic. 
 
Finally, even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and under-age sales should stay in place.
 
Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana.  It’s time that we right these wrongs. 

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The White House

The White House celebrates “A night when hope & history rhyme”

“On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people”

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President Biden awards the National Humanities Medal to Elton John for his work on combating HIV/AIDS (Screenshot/C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON – After a performance from a repertoire of the best known hits from his songbook in a special musical concert at the White House Friday evening, Sir Elton John was called to the podium where, accompanied by the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, President Joe Biden surprised the iconic British singer-songwriter with an award.

The president presented John with the National Humanities Medal for his advocacy work in recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and tireless activism against the global HIV/AIDS crisis disease through his contributions in music and the arts.

The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened its citizens’ engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.

A stunned John was moved to tears. After the president had the citation read by a military aide and hung the medal around the singer’s neck, Biden told the audience gathered, “I think we surprised him” to which they cheered and applauded.

The medal’s citation read in part that it was honoring John “for moving our souls with his powerful voice and one of the defining song books of all time. An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma and advance the simple truth — that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Visibly moved, the iconic musician and performer said: “I just said to the First Lady, I’m never flabbergasted- but I’m flabbergasted and humbled and honoured by this incredible award from the United States of America. I will treasure this so much- I will make me double my efforts to make sure this disease goes away. Your kindness- America’s kindness to me as a musician is second to none, but in the war against AIDS and HIV it’s even bigger and I can’t thank you enough…. I’m really emotional about this- thank you.”

Texas Trans-teen activist Landon Richie (Middle) standing with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, (L) and his husband Chasten (R).
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

The special gathering held under a vaulted glass and aluminum ‘tent’ on the South Lawn of the White House was attended by 2,000 guests including former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, his husband Chasten, as well as teachers, nurses, LGBTQ advocates and military families, who the White House had dubbed “everyday history-makers.”

During a pause in his performance earlier, the singer addressed former first lady Laura Bush, praising her husband, former President George W. Bush’s ongoing work on the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush had initiated while in office and is credited with saving millions of lives across the African continent and helping to change the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS crisis globally.

“I want to say to the first lady, President Bush accelerated the whole thing with his PEPFAR bill. It was the most incredible thing,” he said to Mrs. Bush.

Sir Elton John performs at the White House, September 23, 2022
(Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

President Biden Awards Elton John with National Humanities Medal:

Full Text of the President and the First Lady’s remarks:

THE FIRST LADY:  Hello!  Good evening.  Thank you, Athen.  It’s leaders like you, those helping the next generation live authentically and find their voice, who make me so hopeful for our future.

And thank you to Paul Buccieri and A&E for helping us put this event together.

Isn’t this incredible?    

First Lady Laura Bush is with us tonight.  And, Laura, it’s such an honor to welcome you and your family back to the White House. 

And finally, I want to say what a joy it is to be here with the man who has inspired, supported, and loved Sir Elton John for so many years: his husband, David. 

Few things have the power to bring us together like music.  It can compel us to move as one on the dance floor, to sing along with strangers when we hear that familiar tune.  It’s a voice for the feelings we can’t always define. 

When the piano plays, the strings swell, the drums beat in time with our hearts, we find joy or a balm for our sorrows or the harmonies that tell us we aren’t alone. 

And in that spirit, as we celebrate Elton John’s music, we also celebrate you — everyday history-makers. 

Many of you are my colleagues — fellow teachers, like Leah Michael Dillard.  (Applause.)  Love the teachers!  So, Leah has taught 7th grade English for 20 years.  And, Leah, your students are better thinkers and more engaged citizens because of you. 

We also have first responders and healthcare heroes like — like Dr. Amber Pearson.  Amber was the first person in her family to go to college.  And it wasn’t easy.  She worked multiple jobs, took out loan, and when she finally reached her dream, she gave back to others, as an audiologist for veterans and their families, serving the women and men who serve us so well. 

And in this crowd are leaders of the beautiful, bold, and diverse future we are building together, like Javier Gomez, a student from Miami.  When his governor passed a law targeting the LGBTQ community, he didn’t sit back. 

Javier, you remind us of the power of one person who is willing to speak up for what is right, and that’s what this night is all about.  Coming together, using our voices, celebrating that, here in America, our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.

Elton once said, “Music has healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for just a few hours.”

We’re here tonight to once again lose ourselves and be brought together — perhaps even healed — by the power of music. 

And now, I get to introduce another huge fan, who also happens to be the President of the United States and my husband, Joe Biden. 

THE PRESIDENT:  You had to stand for Jill, but you can sit for me.  Please, all have a seat.  Please, have a seat.

Thank you, Jill.  Thank you all for being here on such a special evening.

And, Athen, leaders like you are helping the next generation live an authentic voice.  And I want to thank you very much for introducing me.

Look, I — as my colleagues — many of whom from the Senate are still here, came tonight — they always used to kid me because I — I was quoting Irish poets on the floor of the Senate.

The think I did it because I’m Irish.  That’s not the reason; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. 

One who we lost not too long ago, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, and I quote, “Once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”

Throughout this incre- — his incredible career, Sir Elton John has been that tidal wave — a tidal wave to help people rise up and make hope and history rhyme.  Three hundred million records sold.  Seventy-one billboard hits, nearly half in the top ten.  Six Grammy Awards.  Two Oscars.  One Tony, among the multiple, multiple nominations across the board.  Four thousand performances around the world.  A singer, songwriter of our time, for all time.

On his final tour in Washington, Jill and I invited Elton to the White House to thank him on behalf of the American people.

So, like so many Americans, our family loves his music.  His songs take us — take us back to a time, a place, a memory.  Songs that make every day exceptional, help us connect and come alive.  And songs that reflect the artist’s gift, that sixth sense to imagine what no one else can, and then sing and play and dream until he sets that feeling free.

As Jill just mentioned, we’re joined by so many people that it’s — he’s set free to be themselves, to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

Families and advocates in the fight against HIV/AIDS — a fight — a fight that he has led with sheer will, and fight for those lives lost and those lives that we can save.

Leaders standing up for equality of all people, no matter who you are or who you love.

Every day — every day Americans of every generation, of every background who know that life can be cruel and full of struggle, but it can also be full of joy and purpose.

And we’re joined tonight by the UK Ambassador to the United States, Karen Pierce, during a difficult time.  Karen, thank you.  Thank you for being here, Karen.

Jill and I travelled to London to pay our respects to the Royal Family on the Queen’s passing.

Our hopes tonight — our hope is that Sir Elton John’s music heals the sorrow, as it often has in the past.

Throughout his career, Elton found his voice — not only his voice, but his voice to help others and help them find their voice.

With his hope, he made history rhyme for countless people in our nation.  That’s what tonight is all about.

Elton often talked about how American music changed his life and how the different genres and sounds influenced his own music and imagination.  It’s clear Elton John’s music has changed our lives.

To David and the boys, thank you for sharing your husband and dad with us tonight.  (Applause.)  And to Elton, on behalf of the American people, thank you — and I sincerely mean this — thank you for moving the soul of our nation. 

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