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Daily Archives: May 23, 2023

South Carolina passes six-week abortion ban after heated debate

The law, which the governor has promised to sign, will ban abortion before most people know they are pregnant

South Carolina’s state senate approved an anti-abortion bill on Tuesday that would ban most abortions at about six weeks, a period when most people are unaware they are pregnant.

During a special session to decide whether the bill advances to the governor, who has promised to sign it, the Republican-controlled senate launched into a heated debate over the ban.

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VOA Exclusive: Ukrainians' Abrams Tanks Training Expected to Start in Days

U.S. forces are expected to start training Ukrainians on M1A1 Abrams tanks “in the next week or so,” Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told VOA on Tuesday.

About 250 Ukrainians are arriving in Germany this week for the training, a senior military official familiar with the training told VOA on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.

The Ukrainians will train on 31 Abrams tanks that arrived in Germany earlier this month. U.S. officials have said that a different set of 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks are being refurbished in the United States and will be delivered to Ukraine by the fall.

Training in Germany is expected to last about 10 weeks and will focus on how to operate the tanks, how to maneuver the tanks in a combined arms fight and tank maintenance, the official said.

The course structure will be similar to previous U.S.-led training on armored Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker vehicles, which were provided to Ukraine earlier this year, according to the official.

Abrams tanks, in particular, have been a long-awaited addition to the fight. The tank’s thick armor and 1,500-horsepower turbine engine make it much more advanced than the Soviet-era tanks Ukraine has been using since the war’s beginning.

The Biden administration announced in January that it would send a newer version of the Abrams tanks, known as M1A2, to Ukraine after they were procured and built, a process that could potentially take years.

In March, the administration pivoted to provide M1A1 Abrams tanks instead, to get the tanks “into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” Ryder said at the time.

F-16s on agenda

The news of the Abrams tank training comes as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is set to host another virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Thursday.

Military and defense leaders from more than 50 nations are expected to focus on ground-based air defense, ammunition needs and F-16 training, Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon earlier Tuesday.

Ryder said F-16 training would be conducted outside of Ukraine at European sites, but it could be weeks or months before the training begins.

“F-16s for Ukraine are about the long term. These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming counteroffensive,” he added.

After months of Ukraine pleading for Western fighter jets, U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday said the U.S. would support a joint international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter aircrafts, including F-16s.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko responded to the news on Saturday with a warning that Western countries would run “colossal risks” if they supplied Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, according to the TASS news agency.

No Signs of Progress From White House or Republicans in 'Tough' Debt Ceiling Talks

Representatives of U.S. President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans ended another round of debt ceiling talks on Tuesday with no signs of progress as the deadline to raise the government’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk default ticked closer.

The two parties remain deeply divided about how to rein in the federal deficit, with Democrats arguing wealthy Americans and businesses should pay more taxes while Republicans want spending cuts.

White House negotiators Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and senior White House adviser Steve Ricchetti met with their Republican counterparts for about two hours. They left without making substantive comments to the media.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the federal government could no longer have enough money to pay all its bills as soon as June 1, which would cause a default that would hammer the U.S. economy and push borrowing costs higher.

The two sides still disagree on spending, and it was not clear when talks would resume, said Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, who chairs the House Finance Committee.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre called the talks “incredibly tough.”

“Both sides have to understand that they’re not going to get everything that they want,” Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. “And what we’re trying to get to is a budget that is reasonable, that is bipartisan, that Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate will be able to vote on and agree on.”

Global markets on edge

The lack of clear progress continued to weigh on Wall Street with U.S. stocks sharply lower on Tuesday and global markets on edge.

Democrats want to freeze spending for the 2024 fiscal year that begins in October at the levels adopted in 2023, arguing that would represent a spending cut because agency budgets won’t match inflation. The idea was rejected by Republicans, who want spending cuts.

Biden wants to cut the deficit by raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes for the oil and pharmaceutical industries. McCarthy said he will not approve tax increases.

McCarthy told reporters on Monday that he expected to talk with Biden daily at least by telephone.

If and when Biden and McCarthy reach a deal, they will still need to sell it to their caucuses in Congress. It could easily take a week to pass a deal through the House and Senate, which would both need to approve the bill before Biden could sign it into law.

‘Why is June 1 the drop dead?’

Hard-line Republicans and progressive Democrats both voiced anger at the idea of compromise.

Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, who chairs the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “the vast majority” of the group’s members would oppose any deal that included spending cuts or new work requirements for federal benefit programs for low-income Americans, both of which are major Republican demands.

Some hard-line members of the Republican House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday said they were skeptical of how firm the June 1 deadline is. Treasury has said the U.S. could run short of cash as soon as June 1, or perhaps in the days following.

“Secretary Yellen needs to not only testify, but in writing, she needs to justify her dates that she’s given. Why is June 1 the drop dead?” Republican Representative Ralph Norman said.

Democrat Representative Hakeem Jeffries — the top Democrat in the House — dismissed that skepticism as unfounded.

“The June 1 date is a real one. Secretary Yellen continues to make that clear,” Jeffries told reporters.

Unless Congress raises the debt ceiling and allows the federal government to borrow money to pay its bills, the United States could default on its obligations, potentially tipping the nation into recession and plunging global financial markets into chaos.

Any deal to raise the limit must pass both chambers of Congress, and therefore hinges on bipartisan support. McCarthy’s Republicans control the House 222-213, while Biden’s Democrats hold the Senate 51-49.

Despite the gridlock, the two sides have found some common ground on several areas, including permit reform that will help energy projects move forward.

On Monday, McCarthy said including some permitting reforms in the debt deal would not solve all of the related issues and that talks on further reforms could continue later, declining to address transmission for renewable energy.

The two sides are also discussing clawing back unused COVID-19 relief funds and imposing stricter work requirements on two popular public benefit programs aimed at helping Americans out of poverty.

New Chinese Ambassador to US Acknowledges Challenges in Relations

China’s new ambassador to Washington, Xie Feng, said on Tuesday that he will seek to enhance China-U.S. cooperation, but that relations face serious challenges.

“I have come here to safeguard China’s interest. This is my sacred responsibility,” Xie told reporters after landing at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“I’m also the envoy of Chinese people, so I’ve come here to enhance China-U.S. exchanges and cooperation,” said Xie, who has garnered a reputation for often blunt rebukes of U.S. actions as ties between the strategic rivals have deteriorated over issues ranging from Taiwan to trade.

Xie, 59, who most recently served as a vice foreign minister charged with overseeing policy toward the U.S., fills the post as, many analysts say, relations between the world’s two largest economies are in the worst state since they were formally established in 1979.

Relations face “serious difficulties and challenges,” Xie said in remarks before departing the airport and boarding a van. Chinese officials said he would drive to Washington.

A fluent English speaker who was previously posted twice to China’s Washington embassy, Xie lodged China’s formal denunciation in February for Washington “obstinately” shooting down what it suspected was a Chinese spy balloon after its flight over the United States spurred a diplomatic crisis.

Beijing has argued it was a civilian airship.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the U.S. welcomed Xie’s arrival.

“We look forward to working with the ambassador designate and his team,” Miller said. “We remain committed, as we said on a number of occasions, to maintain channels of communication with the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to responsibly manage competition.”