In Brief: September 22, 2021

House OKs debt and funding plan, inviting clash with GOP

WASHINGTON — The House voted Tuesday night to fund the government into early December, suspend the federal debt limit and provide disaster and refugee aid, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Republicans who oppose the package despite the prospects of a looming fiscal crisis.

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The Democratic-led House passed the measure by a vote of 220-211, strictly along party lines. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to falter because of overwhelming GOP opposition.

The federal government faces a shutdown if funding stops on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, midnight next Thursday. Additionally, at some point in October the U.S. risks defaulting on its accumulated debt load if its borrowing limits are not waived or adjusted.

“Our country will suffer greatly if we do not act now to stave off this unnecessary and preventable crisis,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said shortly before the vote.

The package approved Tuesday would provide stopgap money to keep the government funded to Dec. 3 and extend borrowing authority through the end of 2022. It includes $28.6 billion in disaster relief for the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and other extreme weather events, and $6.3 billion to support Afghanistan evacuees in the fallout from the end of the 20-year war.

UN: Afghanistan’s Taliban want to address General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS — Who should represent Afghanistan at the United Nations this month? It’s a complex question with plenty of political implications.

The Taliban, the country’s new rulers for a matter of weeks, are challenging the credentials of their country’s former U.N. ambassador and want to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, the international body says.

The question now facing U.N. officials comes just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power as U.S. forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Taliban stunned the world by taking territory with surprising speed and little resistance from the U.S.-trained Afghan military. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a communication on Sept. 15 from the currently accredited Afghan Ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, with the list of Afghanistan’s delegation for the assembly’s 76th annual session.

Five days later, Guterres received another communication with the letterhead “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” signed by “Ameer Khan Muttaqi” as “Minister of Foreign Affairs,” requesting to participate in the U.N. gathering of world leaders.

China, US unveil separate big steps to fight climate change

The two biggest economies and largest carbon polluters in the world announced separate financial attacks on climate change Tuesday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country will no longer fund coal-fired power plants abroad, surprising the world on climate for the second straight year at the U.N. General Assembly. That came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden announced a plan to double financial aid to poorer nations to $11.4 billion by 2024 so those countries could switch to cleaner energy and cope with global warming’s worsening impacts. That puts rich nations close to within reach of its long-promised but not realized goal of $100 billion a year in climate help for developing nations.

“This is an absolutely seminal moment,” said Xinyue Ma, an expert on energy development finance at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center.

This could provide some momentum going into major climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in less than six weeks, experts said. Running up to the historic 2015 Paris climate deal, a joint U.S.-China agreement kickstarted successful negotiations. This time, with China-U.S. relations dicey, the two nations made their announcements separately, hours and thousands of miles apart.

“Today was a really good day for the world,” United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the upcoming climate negotiations, told Vice President Kamala Harris.

From wire sources

White House faces bipartisan backlash on Haitian migrants

WASHINGTON — The White House is facing sharp condemnation from Democrats for its handling of the influx of Haitian migrants at the U.S. southern border, after images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback using aggressive tactics went viral this week.

Striking video of agents maneuvering their horses to forcibly block and move migrants attempting to cross the border has sparked resounding criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are calling on the Biden administration to end its use of a pandemic-era authority to deport migrants without giving them an opportunity to seek asylum in the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., an administration ally, said images of the treatment of the migrants “turn your stomach” and called on the administration to discontinue the “hateful and xenophobic” policies of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

“The policies that are being enacted now — and the horrible treatment of these innocent people who have come to the border — must stop immediately,” Schumer told the Senate on Tuesday.

At the same time, the administration continues to face attacks from Republicans, who say Biden isn’t doing enough to deal with what they call a “crisis” at the border.

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Afghanistan girls soccer team given asylum in Portugal

The girls on Afghanistan’s national soccer team were anxious. For weeks, they had been moving around the country, waiting for word that they could leave.

One wants to be a doctor, another a movie producer, others engineers. All dream of growing up to be professional soccer players.

The message finally came early Sunday: A charter flight would carry the girls and their families from Afghanistan — to where they didn’t know. The buses that would take them to the airport were already on their way.

“They left their homes and left everything behind,” Farkhunda Muhtaj, the captain of the Afghanistan women’s national team who from her home in Canada had spent the last few weeks communicating with the girls and working to help arrange their rescue, told The Associated Press. “They can’t fathom that they’re out of Afghanistan.”

Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the girls, ages 14-16, and their families, had been trying to leave, fearing what their lives might become like under the Taliban — not just because women and girls are forbidden to play sports, but because they were advocates for girls and active members of their communities.

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Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest unscathed by wildfire

THREE RIVERS, Calif. — The ancient massive trees of Sequoia National Park’s famed Giant Forest were unscathed Tuesday even though a wildfire has been burning near them on the western side of California’s Sierra Nevada for nearly two weeks.

“As of right now we don’t have any damage to any of our trees,” said fire information officer Mark Garrett.

The KNP Complex, two lightning-sparked fires that merged, has spread over more than 39 square miles (101 square kilometers), feeding on other types of trees that also live on the high-elevation slopes of the mountain range.

Giant Forest is home to about 2,000 sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, which is considered the world’s largest by volume and is a must-see for visitors to the national park.

The fire recently entered the perimeter of Giant Forest near a cluster of huge trees called the Four Guardsmen but their bases had been wrapped in fire-resistant material and crews had raked and cleared vegetation that could help spread the fire, Garrett said.

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US sues to stop deal between American Airlines and JetBlue

The Justice Department and officials in six states have filed a lawsuit to block a partnership formed by American Airlines and JetBlue, claiming that it will reduce competition and lead to higher fares.

The Justice Department said Tuesday that the agreement will eliminate important competition in New York and Boston and reduce JetBlue’s incentive to compete against American in other parts of the country.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the lawsuit was about ensuring fair competition that lets Americans fly at affordable prices.

“In an industry where just four airlines control more than 80% of domestic air travel, American Airlines’ ‘alliance’ with JetBlue is, in fact, an unprecedented maneuver to further consolidate the industry,” Garland said in a statement. “It would result in higher fares, fewer choices, and lower quality service if allowed to continue.”

American and JetBlue vowed to fight the lawsuit and to continue their alliance unless a court orders them to stop.

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Kremlin’s party gets 324 of 450 seats in Russian parliament

MOSCOW — Russia’s ruling party will get 324 of the 450 seats in the next national parliament, election authorities announced Tuesday. The number is less than the pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, won in the previous election but still an overwhelming majority.

Retaining the party’s dominance in the State Duma was widely seen as crucial for the Kremlin ahead of Russia’s presidential election in 2024. President Vladimir Putin’s current term expires that year, and he is expected either to seek reelection or to choose another strategy to stay in power.

A parliament the Kremlin can control could be key to both scenarios, analysts and Kremlin critics say.

Most opposition politicians were excluded from the parliamentary election that concluded Sunday, which was tainted by numerous reports of violations and voter fraud.

The results gave United Russia 49.8% of the vote for the 225 seats apportioned by parties. Another 225 lawmakers are chosen directly by voters, and United Russia candidates won 198 of those races.

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Toxic gas, new rivers of molten lava endanger Spanish island

EL PASO, Canary Islands — As a new volcanic vent blew open and unstoppable rivers of molten rock flowed toward the sea, authorities on a Spanish island warned Tuesday that more dangers lie ahead for residents, including earthquakes, lava flows, toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.

Several small earthquakes shook the island of La Palma in the Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa on Tuesday, keeping nerves on edge after a volcanic eruption on Sunday. The island, with a population of 85,000, is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, a key tourist destination for Europeans.

Authorities said the new fissure demonstrated that the area was unstable and unsafe, and kept people at least 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) away.

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The rivers of lava, up to six meters (nearly 20 feet) high, rolled down hillsides, burning and crushing everything in their path, as they gradually closed in on the island’s more densely populated coast. One was bearing down on Todoque, where more than 1,000 people live, and where emergency services were preparing evacuations.

So far, the eruption has destroyed around 190 houses and forced the evacuation of 6,000 people.