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Family of Brittney Griner to meet with Biden

Reports indicate meeting to take place Friday

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Brittney Griner (Photo by S Bukley via Bigstock)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday will meet with the family of WNBA star Brittney Griner.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday during her daily briefing said Biden will meet with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner. Jean-Pierre said Biden will also sit 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.

“As we have said before, we believe that Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney and Paul under intolerable circumstances,” said Jean-Pierre. “And as you know, we have been directly engaged with the Russian government through appropriate channels. We made a significant offer a couple of months ago through the same channels we used for Trevor Reed (a former U.S. Marine who had been in a Russian custody since 2019 before his release in April in exchange for in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen who had been in an American prison on drug trafficking charges.) We have followed up on that offer repeatedly, and we’ll continue to pursue every avenue to bring them home safely.”

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Advocacy groups slam new Biden administration policies

White House to expand humanitarian parole program, ‘expedited removal’

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on Dec. 13, 2022. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s expansion of the the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization has sparked widespread criticism from advocacy groups that specifically work with LGBTQ+ and intersex asylum seekers and migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security will create a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work, with significant consequences for those who fail to use those pathways.”

Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app “can seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for a temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization, provided that they: Pass righrous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; have a supporter in the United States who commits to providing financial and other support and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.”

“Individuals do not need to be at the border to schedule an appointment; expanded access to the app in Central Mexico is designed to discourage noncitizens from congregating near the border in unsafe conditions,” notes DHS. “Initially, this new scheduling function will allow noncitizens to schedule a time and place to come to a port of entry to seek an exception from the Title 42 public health order for humanitarian reasons based on an individualized assessment of vulnerability. This will replace the current process for individuals seeking exceptions from the Title 42 public health order, which requires noncitizens to submit requests through third party organizations located near the border.” 

President Joe Biden on Thursday said from the White House as Vice President Kamala Harris stood beside him that Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans “account for most of the people traveling into Mexico to start a new life by getting … to the American border and trying to cross.”

DHS said U.S. Border Patrol “saw” a 90 percent decrease in the number of Venezuelans “encountered at the border” after a similar humanitarian parole progam began for them last October. Uniting for Ukraine, a humanitarian parole program for Ukrainians who fled after Russia launched its war against their country, started in April 2022. 

Up to 30,000 “qualifying nationals” from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela will be allowed “to reside legally in the United States for up to two years and to receive permission to work here during that period.”

DHS notes Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans “who do not avail themselves of this procress, attempt to enter the United States without authorization, and cannot establish a legal basis to remain will be removed or returned to Mexico, which will accept returns of 30,000 individuals per month who fail to use these new pathways.”

“The expansion of the Venezuela process to Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua is contingent on the government of Mexico’s willingness to accept the return or removal of nationals from those countries,” said DHS. “It also is responsive to a request from the government of Mexico to provide additional legal pathways for migrants, and it advances both countries’ interests in addressing the effects throughout the hemisphere of deteriorated conditions in these countries.”  

The administration’s announcement also notes “individuals who enter the United States, Mexico or Panama without authorization following today’s announcement will generally be ineligible for these (humanitarian parole) processes.”

“My message is this: If you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua, or Haiti, you have … or have agreed to begin a journey to America, do not — do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” said Biden “Starting today, if you don’t apply through the legal process, you will not be eligible for this new parole program. Let me reiterate: You need a lawful sponsor in the United States of America, number one. And you need to undergo a rigorous background check, number two. If your application is approved and you show up at — at a U.S. airport or when and where directed … you have access, but if your application is denied or you attempt to cross into the United States unlawfully, you will not be allowed to enter.”

Title 42 is ‘the law now’

The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 27 ruled Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, must remain in place.

The Biden administration has sought to end Title 42 but Arizona and 18 other states that include Texas filed a lawsuit. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in the case next month.

Biden is scheduled to travel to El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Sunday before he travels to Mexico City to attend the North American Leaders’ Summit with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

“I don’t like Title 42 at all, but it is the law now,” said Biden, who predicted the pandemic-era policy will end this year. “I wanted to make sure there was a rational way to begin this now.”

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, on Thursday told reporters that Title 42 “increases” the number of attempts to cross the border without legal authorization. Mayorkas, like Biden, stressed the administration is “required, given the different court orders, to employ Title 42.”

“We will continue to exercise that authority, consistent with the court orders,” said Mayorkas.

Both Mayorkas and Biden said the U.S. will expel foreign nationals who enter the U.S. without legal authorization under Title 8 once Title 42 ends. They also urged Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

“We are here because our immigration system is broken, outdated and in desperate need of reform,” said Mayorkas. “The laws we enforce have not been updated in decades.”

“Many Republicans agree we should do something, but it’s time to stop listening to their inflammatory talk, and it’s time to look at their record,” stressed Biden. “I’ll sit down with anyone who, in good faith, wants to fix our broken immigration system. And it’s hard. It’s hard on the best of circumstances. But if the most extreme Republicans continue to demagogue this issue and reject solutions, I’m left with only one choice: To act on my own, do as much as I can on my own to try to change the atmosphere. Immigration reform used to be a bipartisan issue. We can make it that way again. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s economically a smart thing to do.”

El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on July 15, 2019. President Joe Biden will visit El Paso before he travels to Mexico City for a summit with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Layla Razavi, interim executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, in a statement said their organization is “deeply disappointed at Biden’s shameful expansion of Trump’s Title 42 policy, which further cements his predecessor’s anti-immigrant legacy.” 

“The Biden administration should be working to restore and strengthen our asylum system, not eroding what has been a vital lifeline for so many in our communities,” said Razavi. “True to Title 42’s original motives, this policy will continue to disproportionately harm Black and brown migrants seeking asylum.”

Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration works with LGBTQ+ and intersex asylum seekers from Ukraine and other countries around the world. Steve Roth, the group’s executive director, last May joined five members of Congress who visited two shelters for LGBTQ+ and intersex asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

Roth in a text message to the Blade described the administration’s announcement as “sad and frustrating.”

“It’s unlawful and will limit access to the asylum system for the vast majority of asylum seekers at the border, including LGBTIQ people,” he said. 

Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron C. Morris in a press release said “every LGBTQ and HIV-positive refugee has the right to apply for asylum in the United States.”

“Requiring our community to file for asylum in unsafe third countries will have mortal consequences for many of us,” he said. “Immigration Equality strongly condemns any proposal by the Biden administration to restrict asylum to LGBTQ and HIV-positive refugees. The United States has a great capacity to protect and support asylum seekers and refugees, maybe more than any other nation. President Biden must stop creating barriers to protection, and instead do everything in his power to facilitate the safe relocation of all LGBTQ and HIV-positive people fleeing persecution.”

San Diego Pride Executive Director Fernando Z. López, like Morris, said “asylum is a human right and an LGBTQ issue,” noting consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 68 countries and “people can be put to death simply for being themselves” in 10 of them.

Harris is among the U.S. officials who have publicly acknowledged violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the “root causes” of migration from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

“The United States, California and San Diego have been seen as international safe havens for LGBTQ immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and their families seeking refuge from war, political violence, climate disaster and targeted anti-LGBTQ attacks,” López told the Blade. “The longer any administration prevents those seeking refuge from the ability to live safely and freely in this country, as is their internationally recognized right, our LGBTQ community will continue to have to spend time and resources triaging the crisis at our border.” 

“San Diego Pride, as an organization supporting the LGBTQ community at the U.S.-Mexico border, knows our LGBTQ community needs and deserves real immigration and asylum reform, so we can fully invest in the binational and international capacity-building work we need to truly thrive,” added López. “Today’s announcement only further delays that life-saving, movement-building work.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky travels to Washington

The Ukrainian president told Biden he came to the U.S. to offer “all my appreciations from my heart and from the heart of all Ukrainians”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with President Biden at the White House on Wednesday, December 21, 2022 during his visit to Washington. He later addressed a rare joint session of Congress to thank lawmakers for their assistance and ask that U.S. support continues. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz/Twitter)

WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday met with President Joe Biden at the White House.

Zelenskyy arrived at the White House shortly after 2 p.m. ET. Biden and first lady Jill Biden greeted him.

The Ukrainian president told Biden in the Oval Office that he came to the U.S. to offer “all my appreciations from my heart and from the heart of all Ukrainians.” Zelenskyy later spoke to a joint session of Congress.

Russia launched its war against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Wednesday’s trip marks the first time that Zelenskyy has traveled outside his country since the war began.

Zelenskyy in 2021 pledged Ukraine would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with Biden at the White House. 

Zelenskyy less than six months after the war began said he supports a civil partnerships law for same-sex couples. Ukrainian lawmakers last week unanimously approved a media regulation bill that will ban hate speech and incitement based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Later Wednesday evening the Ukrainian leader addressed a packed joint session of Congress and delivered an impassioned pitch for sustained U.S. military aid for his country.

“Your money is not charity,” Zelensky told lawmakers in the unusual meeting joint session of Congress. “It is an investment in global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

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Respect for Marriage Act signed into law

Bill received final approval last week

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President Joe Biden, center, signs the Respect for Marriage Act on Dec. 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law.

“Today’s a good day,” said Biden during a signing ceremony that took place on the White House’s South Lawn. “Today America takes a big step towards equality.”

The ceremony took place five days after the Respect for Marriage Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with 39 Republicans voting in favor.

The bill passed in the U.S. Senate on Nov. 29 by a 61-39 vote margin. The Respect for Marriage Act first passed in the House in July.

Biden during the signing ceremony specifically thanked U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and other lawmakers who helped secure the bill’s passage. Biden also reiterated calls for Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law, and for an end to anti-LGBTQ+ violence in the wake of last month’s massacre at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the proliferation of anti-Transgender bills across the country.

“When a person can be married in the morning and thrown out of a restaurant in the afternoon, this is still wrong,” said Biden. “We must stop the hate and violence.”

President Joe Biden speaks at the Respect for Marriage Act signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Vice President Kamala Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney in 2004 when she became one of the first public officials in the country to officiate a same-sex wedding. Harris was California’s attorney general when she successfully challenged the state’s Proposition 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, struck down Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court on June 25, 2015, issued its landmark Obergefell decision that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country.

Harris noted Tuesday is “a day, when thanks to Democrats and Republicans, we finally protect marriage rights in federal law.” Dozens of same-sex couples who sued for marriage rights across the country and their families stood on the steps leading to the Truman Balcony as she and Biden spoke.

“For millions of LGBTQI+ Americans and interracial couples, this is a victory and part of a larger fight,” said Harris.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion he wrote in the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade suggested the Supreme Court should also reconsider Obergefell and two other decisions that guaranteed the right to private, consensual sex and the ability of married couples to purchase and use contraception.

The House first passed the Respect for Marriage Act less than a month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson. California Congressman Mark Takano, who is openly gay, earlier this month told the Washington Blade that Congress was “reeling” from the ruling and Thomas’ opinion and lawmakers said “we need to protect what we can.”

Harris said the Dobbs decision is a reminder that “fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right to marry who you love, the right to access contraception, and the right to make decisions about your own body.” Biden noted Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act “because of an extreme Supreme Court has stripped away the right important to millions of Americans that existed for half a century.”

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith, one of the plaintiff couples in the lawsuit that led Massachusetts to become the first state in the country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2004, also spoke at the ceremony. Cyndi Lauper, Sam Smith and members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed.

Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg; National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson; Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Executive Director Andy Marra; David Mixner; Robyn Ochs; Alabama state Rep. Neil Rafferty; Pennsylvania state Sen. Malcolm Kenyatta; Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernández; former New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Maryland state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City); GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis; Garden State Equality (N.J.) Executive Director Christian Fuscarino; Equality Florida Communications Director Brandon Wolf; Wanda Alston Center Executive Director June Crenshaw and Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, are among 5,300 people who attended the ceremony.

Sinema, Baldwin, Collins, U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D.N.Y), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) were also in attendance.

“Today is a historic day and a much-needed victory for our community,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a press release. “It should be lost on no one that this bill signing comes less than a month after a deadly attack on our community in Colorado Springs, and at a time when the community continues to face ongoing threats of online and offline violence, as well as legislative attacks on our rights. In signing this bill, President Biden has shown that LGBTQ+ peoples’ lives and love are valid and supported.”

GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders Janson Wu said “millions of couples and their children across the country now have the assurance that their families will continue to be respected by our state and federal governments because President Biden has signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law.” Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang echoed these sentiments.

“This is an historic milestone for our movement and an important victory for hundreds of thousands of loving couples and their children across the nation,” said Hoang in a statement. “All Americans deserve the freedom to marry the person they love, and this bill is a reflection of the fact that for the majority of Americans — across all political parties, backgrounds, and in every corner of the country — the debate over marriage equality is settled.”

The White House is lit in rainbow colors following the signing ceremony on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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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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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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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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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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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 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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