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US Senate passes $95bn bill including aid for Ukraine

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US Senate passes $95bn bill including aid for Ukraine

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The US Senate has approved a $95bn bill to deliver security aid to Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region with overwhelming bipartisan support, in a boost to Joe Biden’s top foreign policy priorities.

The final passage of the legislation in Congress on Tuesday ended a political logjam that had lasted for months and paved the way for Washington to quickly dispatch new weapons to Ukraine as it battles Russia’s full-scale invasion. US officials said some aid for Kyiv would be forthcoming within days.

The bill will also bolster US military assistance for Israel — which has exchanged drone attacks and missile strikes with Iran over the past 10 days — and comes despite mounting tensions between the White House and Israeli leaders over the country’s war in Gaza against Hamas and the heavy Palestinian civilian casualties.

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The approval represents a legislative victory for Biden as he faces an election match-up against Donald Trump in November and a defeat for foreign policy isolationists, particularly Republican lawmakers close to the former president, who had been holding up support for Kyiv for months.

The bill won support from 79 senators, with 18 voting against.

Biden immediately cheered the bill’s passage, saying he would sign it on Wednesday. Aid could start reaching Ukraine as early as this week. “Congress has passed my legislation to strengthen our national security and send a message to the world about the power of American leadership: we stand resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression.”

John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesperson, said: “Mr Putin thinks he can play for time, so we’ve got to try to make up some of that time.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also thanked the US Senate shortly after the vote, which he said “reinforces America’s role as a beacon of democracy and leader of the free world”.

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Zelenskyy emphasised the importance of long-range capabilities, artillery and air defence systems. Dwindling stocks of anti-air missiles have in recent weeks allowed Russian forces to launch wide-ranging missile attacks targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructures.

The highest hurdle for the bill was cleared on Saturday after Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, decided to bring Ukraine aid up for a vote despite months of internal divisions and opposition from some rank-and-file lawmakers such as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who threatened to oust him from his role.

Supporters of the legislation from both parties and in the White House saw its passage as a bittersweet victory because of the time it took for it to pass Congress.

“So much of the hesitation and short-sightedness that has delayed this moment is premised on sheer fiction,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, said on Tuesday, blaming Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who recently interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, for “demonising” Ukraine.

“Make no mistake: delay in providing Ukraine the weapons to defend itself has strained the prospects of defeating Russian aggression. Dithering and hesitation have compounded the challenges we face,” McConnell said.

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Opponents of Ukraine aid continued to attack the legislation. JD Vance, the Ohio Republican senator close to Trump, likened the arguments in favour of the aid to those that led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. “It’s the same exact talking points 20 years later with different names,” Vance said.

Some leftwing lawmakers, meanwhile, criticised the bill for allowing Israel to keep receiving offensive weapons from the US. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, pushed for an amendment to strip those measures from the legislation, but it was not considered.

Sanders joined two Democrats and 15 Republicans who opposed the package.

“I voted no tonight on the foreign aid package for one simple reason: US taxpayers should not be providing billions more to the extremist Netanyahu government to continue its devastating war against the Palestinian people,” he said.

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Idaho Democratic Caucus Results

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Idaho Democratic Caucus Results
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Key moments ahead in the UK election campaign

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Key moments ahead in the UK election campaign

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Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a general election on July 4 has set in train a series of political and constitutional events unforeseen 48 hours ago.

With an election now six weeks away, these are the some of the key moments in Britain’s new political calendar.

What does the election mean for parliament?

The prime minister’s decision to hold a July 4 poll has led to a frenetic clearing of the legislative decks before parliament is officially “prorogued” — or suspended — on Friday.

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The surprise calling of a summer election has forced Sunak to hurriedly drop key bills including measures to crack down on smoking by young people and create a new football regulator for England.

Parliament will be officially dissolved on May 30, at which point all seats fall vacant. Some MPs resent the fact that they have had little time to say their farewells to colleagues.

After the election, parliament will meet on July 9, when the first business will be the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons and the swearing-in of new MPs. The State Opening will take place on July 17.

When will the manifestos appear?

Labour says its manifesto, or programme for government, is ready but it has yet to set a publication date. According to party insiders it will be “a reasonably slim document”. Sunak claims Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition party, has “no plan” for the country. 

The Labour manifesto has been pulled together by Rav Athwal, a former academic and Treasury official, but under tight political control from Pat McFadden, the party’s campaign co-ordinator, and campaign chief Morgan McSweeney.

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Party insiders say McFadden and McSweeney have “bomb-proofed” the manifesto to avoid it exploding in the course of a six-week campaign. Expect a focus on “stability” with promises to reform worker rights, planning and a pledge to invest in the green transition.

Allies of Sunak say the Conservative manifesto is “in good shape” and is intended to show the party has not run out of ideas. “It’s not going to be bland,” said one. The party says it expects to publish the document early in the campaign.

Will Tanner and James Nation, two policy advisers, “held the pen” on the document. Expect red-blooded commitments on tax cuts, migration, welfare reform and extra defence spending.

Will there be TV debates?

Although they feel like a long-standing tradition in British politics, TV debates between party leaders started only in 2010, a remarkable 50 years after Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy went head to head in the US presidential race in 1960.

Typically the underdog in an election has more to gain from such an encounter, so Sunak’s team have challenged Starmer to take part in a televised debate during every week of the six-week campaign. 

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“Don’t you think the British public deserve to know what you actually stand for?” asked Richard Holden, Tory chair, on social media platform X. It is highly unlikely Starmer will agree to such an intense schedule.

“I’ve been saying bring it on for a very, very long time,” Starmer said in January. “I’m happy to debate any time.” 

There has been speculation that the Labour leader might only take part in two debates on the BBC and ITV. A spokesperson for Starmer declined to comment, but insisted: “We’re up for it.”

How will candidates be picked?  

A frantic rush by all the parties to select their final candidates will now take place before the June 7 deadline to submit nomination forms to the Electoral Commission, the elections watchdog. 

Both the Conservatives and Labour have scores of vacancies left to fill, with additional openings arising on Thursday after a new clutch of MPs announced they would be stepping down at this election. 

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The latest departures include Tory MPs Dame Eleanor Laing, deputy Commons speaker, plus ministers Jo Churchill and Huw Merriman. Labour MPs Holly Lynch and Kevan Jones have also now said they will leave parliament.

The heaviest scrutiny will fall on empty Labour and Tory “safe” seats, into which party bosses are likely to try and parachute favoured figures. The central party machines enjoy far greater influence in these eleventh-hour selections.

Will international meetings be affected?

Sunak’s decision to go for July 4 throws up some significant political and diplomatic challenges. Downing Street’s working assumption is that he will still attend the G7 summit in Bari, Italy, between June 13 and June 15.

More interesting is the fact that whoever emerges as prime minister on July 4 — opinion polls suggest it will be Starmer — will be thrust immediately on to the world stage with two big upcoming international summits.

The newly elected UK leader will travel to a Nato meeting in Washington starting on July 9, where the Ukraine war will be high on the security alliance’s agenda.

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Then crucially on July 18, the new premier is scheduled to host a meeting of the European Political Community at Blenheim Palace. London’s sluggishness over fixing this date for the grouping of more than 40 European states had already riled allies.

A change of prime minister would further complicate matters. Sunak intended the event to focus on irregular migration, while Starmer is likely to favour a broader agenda.

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Some NFL fans see disparities in its responses to Harrison Butker and Colin Kaepernick

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Some NFL fans see disparities in its responses to Harrison Butker and Colin Kaepernick

Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker, pictured at a December 2023 game, sparked conversation and controversy earlier this month with his commencement speech at Benedictine College in Kansas.

Noam Galai/Getty Images for The Gordon Parks Foundation and Jamie Squire/Getty Images


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Noam Galai/Getty Images for The Gordon Parks Foundation and Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Harrison Butker’s controversial commencement speech — and the reaction — continue to dominate conversation off the field, with key figures in the NFL weighing in publicly for the first time this week.

The Kansas City Chiefs kicker stirred up a culture war skirmish with his remarks at Benedictine College earlier this month, in which he denounced abortion rights, Pride Month, COVID-19 lockdowns, “dangerous gender ideologies” and “the tyranny of diversity, equity and inclusion,” while also encouraging female graduates to embrace the “vocation” of homemaker, all in 20 minutes.

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The speech, which has since racked up nearly 2 million views on YouTube, resonated with some football fans and conservative public figures, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley. Online sales of Butker’s jersey spiked, becoming the Chiefs’ best-seller.

But the speech has drawn widespread criticism from many corners of the internet, including some current and former students of the Catholic liberal arts college, an order of affiliated nuns, Kansas City officials and fans of Taylor Swift, whom Butker quoted in the speech as “my teammate’s girlfriend.”

The NFL distanced itself from Butker’s comments in a brief statement last week, saying he made them “in his personal capacity” and “his views are not those of the NFL as an organization.”

“The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger,” it added.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell echoed that idea while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

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“We have over 3,000 players,” Goodell said, according to Yahoo Sports and the Associated Press. “We have executives around the league that have a diversity of opinions and thoughts just like America does. I think that’s something that we treasure, and that’s part of, I think, ultimately what makes us as a society better.”

But some social media users were quick to contrastGoodell’s comments with hisreaction to another high-profile controversy involving a football player exercising his right to self-expression: that of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

When it comes to players’ self-expression, some see a double standard

 Kaepernick, who is biracial, began sitting on the bench during the playing of the national anthem in the 2016 preseason to protest what he called “the injustices that are happening in America.”

He continued to kneel during the anthem for the rest of the season, inspiring some other players but prompting criticism from many — including then-President Donald Trump — who accused him of being anti-American.

Goodell bemoaned Trump’s comments as showing “an unfortunate lack of respect” for players but had already made a similar critique of Kaepernick’s protest himself.

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“I think it’s important if they see things they want to change in society, and clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better,” Goodell said in his first public comments on the protest in 2016. “But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”

The following year, as the number of players kneeling — and the backlash to them — grew, Goodell told NFL teams in a memo that “everyone should stand” during the national anthem.

“The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues,” he wrote. “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers in the spring of 2017 but wasn’t signed by any NFL team afterward, which led his supporters to accuse league owners of freezing him out because of his political beliefs. Kaepernick alleged the same in a grievance filed against the NFL later that year, which he withdrew after settling in 2019.

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He hasn’t played professionally since but has continued his career as a civil rights activist and author.

In June 2020, as protests against racial injustice and police brutality rocked the U.S., and after players called on the NFL to speak out, Goodell released a video statement condemning racism and acknowledging the league’s shortcomings in that area.

“We, the National Football League admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest,” he said, without naming Kaepernick.

Goodell doubled down in a series of remarks that summer, including encouraging an NFL team to sign Kaepernick as a free agent and publicly apologizing.

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“I wished we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” he said.

On Wednesday, X (formerly Twitter) users and op-ed writers called Goodell’s comments hypocritical and wondered aloud what Kaepernick thinks of them. Some acknowledged that their situations differ, since Kaepernick protested in uniform during games while Butker made his speech off the field.

Kaepernick hasn’t commented publicly on Butker’s speech or Goodell’s response.

Last week, as controversy over Butker’s comments brewed, The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg said Butker and Kaepernick deserve equal respect for expressing their views.

“These are his beliefs and he’s welcome to them,” she said of Butker. “I don’t have to believe them, I don’t have to accept them, the ladies that were sitting in that audience don’t have to accept them.

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“The same way we want respect when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, we want to give respect to people whose ideas are different from ours because the man who says he wants to be president … he says the way to act is to take away people’s right to say how they feel. We don’t want to be that, we don’t want to be those people.”

Some Chiefs leaders have also spoken up for Butker

More members of the Chiefs acknowledged the controversy on Wednesday, coming to Butker’s defense.

Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters, “There are certain things that he said that I don’t necessarily agree with but I understand … he’s trying to do whatever he can to lead people in the right direction.”

He added that he’s known Butker for seven years and considers him a good person.

“I judge him by the character that he shows every single day,” he said. “That’s someone who cares about the people around him, cares about his family and wants to make a good impact in society.”

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Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid also addressed the response to the speech, though stayed away from its contents. He said he hadn’t talked to Butker about it because “I didn’t think we needed to.”

“We’re a microcosm of life,” he said of the team. “Everybody is from different areas, different religions, different races, and so, we all get along, we all respect each other’s opinions and not necessarily do we go by those, but we respect everybody to have a voice … My wish is that everybody could kind of follow that.”

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