In Brief: February 27, 2021

US implicates Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince likely approved the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that instantly ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew worldwide outrage.

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The intelligence findings were long known to many U.S. officials and, even as they remained classified, had been reported with varying degrees of precision. But the public rebuke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is still a touchstone in U.S-Saudi relations. It leaves no doubt that as the prince continues in his powerful role and likely ascends to the throne, Americans will forever associate him with the brutal killing of a journalist who promoted democracy and human rights.

Yet even as the Biden administration released the findings, it appeared determined to preserve the Saudi relationship by avoiding direct punishment of the prince himself despite demands from some congressional Democrats and Khashoggi allies for significant and targeted sanctions.

Questioned by reporters, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the approach.

“What we’ve done by the actions we’ve taken is not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values,” he said. “I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.”

Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls taken in mass abduction

LAGOS, Nigeria — Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a boarding school in northern Nigeria on Friday, police said, the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation.

Police and the military have begun joint operations to rescue the girls after the attack at the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town, according to a police spokesman in Zamfara state, Mohammed Shehu, who confirmed the number abducted.

One parent, Nasiru Abdullahi, told The Associated Press that his daughters, aged 10 and 13, are among the missing.

“It is disappointing that even though the military have a strong presence near the school they were unable to protect the girls,” he said. “At this stage, we are only hoping on divine intervention.”

Resident Musa Mustapha said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from interfering while the gunmen spent several hours at the school. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.

.House voting on relief bill, Dems mulling wage rescue

WASHINGTON — A $1.9 trillion package aimed at helping the country rebuild from the pandemic seemed headed toward House passage Friday, even as Democrats searched for a way to revive their derailed drive to boost the minimum wage.

A virtual party-line House vote was expected on the COVID-19 relief measure, which embodies President Joe Biden’s push to flush cash to individuals, businesses, states and cities. The White House issued a statement reinforcing its support for the new president’s paramount initial goal.

“The bill would allow the administration to execute its plan to change the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said. “And it would provide Americans and their communities an economic bridge through the crisis.”

Republicans have lined up against the plan, calling it an overpriced and wasteful attempt to help Democratic allies like labor unions and Democratic-run states.

The bill is “a partisan circus” designed to “quickly notch some wins for the president’s buddies,” said Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., top Republican on the House Budget Committee.

From wire sources

Biden surveys Texas weather damage, encourages vaccines

HOUSTON — President Joe Biden heard firsthand from Texans clobbered by this month’s brutal winter weather on Friday and pledged to stick with them “for the long haul” as he made his first trip to a major disaster area since he took office.

Biden was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing “God’s work.” He promised the federal government will be there for Texans as they try to recover, not just from the historic storm but also the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it’s not a Republican or Democrat that’s hurting,” Biden said. “It’s our fellow Americans that are hurting and it’s our job to help everyone in need.”

With tens of thousands of Houston area residents without safe water, local officials told Biden that many are still struggling. While he was briefed, first lady Jill Biden joined an assembly line of volunteers packing boxes of quick oats, juice, and other food at the Houston Food Bank, where he arrived later.

The president’s first stop was the Harris County Emergency Operations Center for a briefing from acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and state and local emergency management officials.

WH climate czar: Texas storm ‘a wake-up call’

WASHINGTON — The deadly winter storm that caused widespread power outages in Texas and other states is a “wake-up call” for the United States to build energy systems and other infrastructure that are more reliable and resilient in the face of extreme-weather events linked to climate change, President Joe Biden’s national climate adviser said Friday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gina McCarthy said the storm that devastated Texas and other states “is not going to be as unusual as people had hoped. It is going to happen, and we need to be as resilient and working together as much as possible. We need systems of energy that are reliable and resilient as well.”

From wire sources

McCarthy said the scientific evidence is clear that more frequent and more dangerous storms are likely, “and if we really care about keeping our people working and keeping our kids healthy and giving them a future we’re proud of, then we’re not going to ignore these wake-up calls. We’re going to take action.”

McCarthy’s comments came as Biden and his wife Jill were in Texas to survey damage caused by the storm, which caused millions of homes and business to lose heat and running water. At least 40 people in the state died.

“We need to envision a future and an optimistic way of giving people hope again — that we are building back better,” she said, using Biden’s slogan for a plan costing at least $2 trillion to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and create clean-energy jobs.

Some local GOP leaders fire up base with conspiracies, lies

A faction of local, county and state Republican officials is pushing lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories that echo those that helped inspire the violent U.S. Capitol siege, online messaging that is spreading quickly through GOP ranks fueled by algorithms that boost extreme content.

The Associated Press reviewed public and private social media accounts of nearly 1,000 federal, state, and local elected and appointed Republican officials nationwide, many of whom have voiced support for the Jan. 6 insurrection or demanded that the 2020 presidential election be overturned, sometimes in deleted posts or now-removed online forums.

“Sham-peachment,” they say, and warn that “corporate America helped rig the election.” They call former president Donald Trump a “savior” who was robbed of a second term — despite no evidence — and President Joe Biden, a “thief.” “Patriots want answers,” they declare.

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The bitter, combative rhetoric is helping the officials grow their constituencies on social media and gain outsized influence in their communities, city councils, county boards and state assemblies. And it exposes the GOP’s internal struggle over whether the party can include traditional conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists and militias as it builds its base for 2022.

Earlier this month, the FBI knocked on the door of the Republican Women’s Federation of Michigan vice president Londa Gatt to ask where she was on the day of the Capitol attack.

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