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Biden signs omnibus, reauthorizes VAWA with LGBTQ+ program

The controversial Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding from covering most abortions, also made its way into the omnibus deal

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Biden signs into law the 'Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022' (Screenshot/CNBC)

WASHINGTON – By signing the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package Tuesday, President Joe Biden reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which will, among other things, create the first grant program dedicated to LGBTQ+ domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. 

“Today we’re again showing the American people that as a country we can come together, as Democrats and Republicans and independents, and do big things — that our democracy can deliver,” Biden said at the White House. 

The VAWA, which expired in 2019 due to partisan disputes, provides resources to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The act was a top priority for Biden, who championed the legislation when it was first enacted in 1994. 

In a joint statement last Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-Ny.) announced the inclusion of the VAWA in the larger omnibus bill, which will keep the federal government funded until September.

“Finally, this historic legislation will carry major bipartisan legislation that has been in the making for years,” they said. “The Violence Against Women Act, expired for too many years, will finally be reauthorized.”

Last month, a bipartisan group of lawmakers – led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) – announced they reached an agreement on the reauthorization of the VAWA. The legislation gained national attention, as actress Angelina Jolie worked with Congresspeople to promote the effort

The reauthorization will create a grant program dedicated to expanding and developing initiatives specifically for LGBTQ+ domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, which Liz Seaton, policy director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said was a first of its kind in an emailed statement to the Blade. The group’s sister organization, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, participated in a working group on bill language. 

The reauthorization will also expand resources to other marginalized groups, like Native Americans.

“VAWA’s Tribal provisions will restore justice for Native communities and provide tools to keep Native families safe,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hi.), who worked with Murkowski to draft the tribal title of the reauthorization, in a statement.

Biden’s signature on the spending package marked the first time in nearly a decade that the VAWA was updated, something advocates pushed for – saying it was necessary to meet the needs of the people the bill was supposed to protect. 

The controversial Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding from covering most abortions, also made its way into the omnibus deal.

Seaton called it “unjust” and warned that it undermines “reproductive justice and the bodily integrity of women and LGBTQ folx.”

“This is especially true for especially Black and Brown people, people dependent for their health and survival on federal monies, and people living in poverty,” she told the Blade in an emailed statement. 

The spending package, which includes further military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, passed Congress Thursday.

Liz Seaton, Policy Director, National LGBTQ Task Force full statement:

The National LGBTQ Task Force announces that the bipartisan omnibus spending package President Biden signed today contains reauthorization of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. From 2013 to 2019 when VAWA expired, it has prohibited discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity by those providing help to victims. While it does so much more, this Act creates the first grant program dedicated to expanding and developing initiatives specifically for LGBTQ domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. Our sister organization, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, participated in a working group on bill language and advocated for its passage.”  

We must note that the omnibus package includes the unjust Hyde Amendment. It bars federal funding to cover most abortions, undermining reproductive justice and the bodily integrity of women and LGBTQ folx. This is especially true for especially Black and Brown people, people dependent for their health and survival on federal monies, and people living in poverty,” Seaton added.

“Passage of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 will help ensure even more resources and services are available to LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence,” said Beverly Tillery, Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which coordinates NCAVP.

“This legislation has the strongest-ever provisions to benefit LGBTQ survivors. While the LGBTQ community continues to experience a barrage of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ attacks across the nation, VAWA provides a brief moment of hope that we can and will continue to make important advancements for our community. This victory is the result of a strong coalition of advocates who have been willing to fight with and for the most marginalized communities in our country.” 

“LGBTQ survivors of domestic and sexual violence deserve dignity and respect, especially when they are seeking critical services that can help them recover from violent situations,” said the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Chief Impact Officer and NCAVP Policy Representative Terra Russell-Slavin.

“The reauthorization of VAWA, with the first-ever standalone grant program for LGBTQ survivors, sends a much-needed national message of support to LGBTQ survivors when our community is under attack in statehouses across the country. The Center is proud to have worked with NCAVP to help champion these efforts.”

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Biden signs into law the ‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022’ — 3/15/22:

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FULL TEXT: Remarks by President Biden at Signing of H.R. 2471, “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022”

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Please — please, sit down. 

     Well, thank you, not only for being here but for what you did.

I want to thank the — Vice President Harris and the congressional leaders who are here today.

You know, in a moment, I’m going to sign this bipartisan government funding bill.  But with this bill, we’re going to send a message to the American people — a strong message — that Democrats and Republicans can actually come together and get something done — right, Nance? — and to fulfill our most basic responsibilities: to keep the government open and running for the American people, serving the American people, investing in your communities and investing in the American people, and doing it in a fiscally responsible way.

This bill also includes historic funding — $13.6 billion — to address Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the impact on surrounding countries.  (Applause.) 

     Thank you.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has united people all across America, united our two parties in Congress, and united freedom-loving world.  And this — and it’s an act with urgency and resolve that we’re doing right now that you’ve provided me the ability to — to do.

I want to thank the congressional leadership for working so quickly to — to make sure we have the resources we need — economic, humanitarian, and security — to continue our forceful response to this crisis.

We’ve already committed more than 1 billion 200 million dollars in security assistance to the people of Ukraine just over the past year.  And I — I know all of you know that; it’s preaching to the choir here.

     But we’ve been providing anti-armor — taking out tanks — air — anti-air capabilities directly — directly to the Ukrainian forces.  And we’re also facilitating significant shipments of security assistance from our Allied partners to Ukraine.

With this — with this new security funding and the drawdown authorities in this bill, we’re remo- — we’re moving urgently to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country.

And I’ll have much more to say about this tomorrow — about exactly what we’re doing in Ukraine. 

We’re also going to be better positioned to provide for the rapidly growing humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people.

     This war has turned nearly 3 million Ukrainians into refugees, with numbers growing every single day.  And that’s on top of the 12 million people who require humanitarian assistance inside of Ukraine.

     The United States is helping to lead the global humanitarian response with our partners in Europe and well beyond Europe.

     In just the past few weeks, we provided nearly $293 million in humanitarian assistance to people in Ukraine and in neighboring countries.

     Our experts are on the ground in Poland and in neighboring countries, where the Vice President just came back from, to make real-time assessments of a rapidly evolving crisis, to get urgently needed humanitarian supplies to the people in need now.

     We’re airlifting emergency relief supplies into staging positions in the region — supplies like high-thermal blankets, water treatment equipment — so that they can be shipped into Ukraine.

     We’re providing essentials like soap and laundry detergent — simple-sounding things — to refugees who fled with literally nothing but the clothing on their backs.

     We’re working with partners to supply access to safe drinking water and to food rations to the people affected by this conflict.

     With U.S. support, the World Food Programme has already purchased 20,000 metric tons of food to address the growing needs of individuals affected by this conflict.

     It’s exceedingly difficult to get supplies into Ukraine while the Russian onslaught continues.  But we’re managing to get supplies into Ukraine regularly thanks to the bravery of so many frontline workers who are still at their post.  And we are supporting food assistance at refugee reception centers in frontline countries like Moldova.

     With billions more included in this bill for new humanitarian assistance, we’re going to be able to quickly ramp up our response and help alleviate the suffering that Putin’s war is causing the Ukrainian people in the region.

     This bill also provides necessary economic support for Ukraine and Ukraine’s neighbors that are impacted by this war — things like loan guarantees, direct financial support, including — including to address the needs like energy and cybersecurity.

     This bill is also going to help face our — our challenges here at home.  It sends a clear message to the American people that we’re investing in safety, health, and the future of Americans.

     Let me just mention a couple of highlights, starting with community safety.  We know what works to make our communities safer, and that’s investing in prevention and community police officers so that they can walk the streets, know the neighborhoods, and who can help restore trust and safety in the communities.

     The answer is not to abandon our streets or to choose between safety and equal justice.  It’s in funding — it’s in this funding bill, which we make sure we do both.

     This budget invests in funding for agencies like the FBI and U.S. Marshals and the Drug Enforcement Agency, but it also includes funding for COPS programs to increase community policing and the ability of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms tackle — to tackle gun crime.  And it funds entirely new community violence intervention programs just at the Department of Justice.

     Community violence interruption programs are programs where trusted community members work directly with the people who are most likely to commit or become victims of gun crimes.  I had a chance to meet with those leaders in one of the programs in New York City not long ago.  I saw the difference they were making every day.

     We know these programs can dramatically reduce violence, and we’re going to fund a lot more of them.

     This bill also includes grants for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention programs.  We’re talking about drug treatment programs, school violence prevention programs, programs where people who might end up in prison and instead get mandatory mental healthcare that they need.  Part of the saf- — before any crime was committed.

     Part of the safety is the ability to feel safe in gender-based — from gender-based violence.  I wrote a Violence Against Women Act with many in this room years ago — 28 years ago — to provide protection against domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, and to support survivors and help them find a way out of those abusive situations they were locked into because they had no means to leave, with support for race cri- — rape crip- — crisis centers, as well as housing and legal assistance. 

The law has saved lives, and that’s helped women rebuild their lives and make children a heck of a lot safer.

Today, with this bill, we reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.  For example — (applause).

For example, we’re doing more to help survivor — survivors in rural areas and in underserved communities.  Tribal courts will now be able to exercise jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of sexual assault and sex trafficking.  And we’re providing more support for legal services and for law enforcement to get the training they need to help handle the trauma survivors are experiencing.

Now, I’ll have more to say about the Violence Against Women Act tomorrow as well. 

And we’re going to be able to fund significant areas of common ground in this bill, especially in areas that I — that I called in my State of the Union address a “Unity Agenda” — the things that we can accomplish together, Democrats and Republicans.

Two elements of that agenda are, one, beat the opioid epidemic and, two, take on the challenges of mental health, which have been exacerbated because of the COVID problem.

This bill supports opioid response grants that are funding that we provide to states to support opioid prevent — opioid prevention, treatment, and recovery services.

We also included funding for states in support of mental health services, as well as additional funding for children’s mental health services, which has increased exponentially.

I’ve also called for increasing Pell grants to make colleges more affordable, and that is: Anyone making less than $50,000 a year, they’re eligible for a Pell grant.  This bill delivers increasing the maximum Pell grant by $400, which will make a difference in a lot of lives.

Now, I would like to add a word about another investment this bill makes, one that I expect will pay dividends for hope, healing, and for our economy for generations to come.  And it’s called ARPA-H — Advanced Research Project Agencies of Health.  This will be a new kind of entity, an engine for innovation, a place where we’ll do high-risk, high-reward research that can drive unprecedented progress in biomedicine. 

It’s based on DARPA, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Project Agency, that has led to breakthroughs in technologies that protect our national security, like the Internet, GPS, and so much more.

ARPA-H will have a singular purpose: to drive breakthroughs to prevent, detect, and treat diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, and other diseases. 

And, by the way, we’re providing that we can — and we’re proving that we can invest in the American people in a fiscally responsible way.

Last year, the deficit dropped for the first time since 2015.  It fell by $360 billion last year.  And this year, it’s on track to drop by more than $1 trillion.  After four years in a row of increasing deficits before I took office, we’re now on a track to see the largest-ever decline in the deficit in American history.  (Applause.)

So let me close with this: Today, we’re again showing the American people that, as a country, we can come together as Democrats, Republicans, and independents and do big things; that our democracy can deliver — can deliver — and outperform autocracies; and that there’s nothing we can’t do when we do it together as the United States of America.

So I’d like to now invite up my Budget Director, Shalanda Young, and all the members of the Congress here today while we sign this bipartisan government funding bill.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

Speaker, there you go.  Now, I know we usually hand out pens to everyone who’s done this, but you’re all going to get a pen, but we didn’t have 18 — 15 pens up here.  (Laughter.)  So I’m going to make sure you get it when we finish.

SENATOR LEAHY:  I wanted to make sure that my signature was legible.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it is (inaudible).

SPEAKER PELOSI:  See how faint mine is and how dark his is.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, I know.  I tell you what, Nancy — (laughs) — anyway.  I’m going to give it a shot here, okay?

(The bill is signed.)  (Applause.)

LEADER SCHUMER:  All right.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

LEADER SCHUMER:  Give the pen to Shalanda.  Shalanda, you get it.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go. 

MS. YOUNG:  Thank you, sir.  (Applause.)

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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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The White House

Bisexual activists to meet with White House officials

Meeting to take place at HHS on Tuesday

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White House (Photo courtesy of Adam Schultz/White House)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Tuesday will hold a meeting with a group of more than a dozen bisexual activists.

The meeting, which coincides with Bisexual Awareness Week, will take place at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in D.C.

The Washington Blade has learned National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson, Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson, Heron Greenesmith, Drs. Mimi Hoang and Lauren Beach, Khafre Kujichagulia Abif, Diana Adams, Nicole Holmes, Blair Imani, Tania Israel, Ellyn Ruthstrom, Belle Haggett Silverman and Ezra Young will attend the meeting that BiPlus Organizing US has coordinated.

Meeting participants will highlight three specific points

            • Funding priorities for bisexual health

            • Public health messaging and communications

            • Intimate partner violence within bisexual communities

BiPlus Organizing US will ask the Biden administration to illuminate the White House in the bisexual Pride colors and to issue a proclamation that acknowledges Celebrate Bisexual Day, which is on Friday. The group will also seek a White House-sponsored bisexual event in D.C. and a virtual post-meeting brief.

“The Sept. 20, 2022, policy brief meeting is a small step forward since the previous administration,” said BiPlus Organizing US. “However, we wish to work with government on addressing our issues to ensure that Bisexual Awareness Week and Celebrate Bisexuality Day 2023 are given equal recognition to that of June’s annual White House Pride events, and policy, funding, communications, messaging, data collection and more are distinctly considered for the bi+ community.”

Meeting participants on Monday will attend a BiPlus Organizing US reception in D.C. Information about the meeting can be found here.

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The White House

Biden meets with Brittney Griner’s wife, agent

WNBA star last month sentenced to nine years in Russian penal colony

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Brittney Griner (Photo by Kathclick via Bigstock)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday met with Brittney Griner’s wife.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement said the meeting took place at the White House. A pool report noted Biden met with Cherelle Griner and Brittney Griner’s agent, Lindsay Colas.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan also participated in the meeting.

Biden also sat down with Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, another American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying.

A Russian court last month convicted Brittney Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist — of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. 

Brittney Griner’s lawyers have appealed her sentence.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Griner and Whelan. 

American officials have reportedly expressed a willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a prisoner swap. A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed negotiations between the two countries over a potential prisoner swap have begun.

“President Biden met today with Elizabeth Whelan and Cherelle Griner, the loved ones of two American citizens who are wrongfully detained in Russia under intolerable circumstances. Elizabeth Whelan, the sister of Paul Whelan, and Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, met separately with the president in the Oval Office,” said Jean-Pierre in her statement. “The president held the meetings to reiterate his continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely. He asked after the wellbeing of Elizabeth and Cherelle and their respective families during this painful time. The president appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Brittney and Paul from those who love them most, and acknowledged that every minute they are being held is a minute too long,” 
 
“Today’s meetings come after earlier meetings and conversations that the president, his national security team, and the State Department have held with the Whelan and Griner families to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible,” added Jean-Pierre. “We all admire the courage of the Whelan and Griner families in the face of these unimaginable circumstances, and we remain committed to reuniting them with their loved ones.”

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