Live Updates: Blinken Visits Ukraine


Credit…Pool photo by Efrem Lukatsky

When Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived in Ukraine early Thursday, he encountered an all too familiar scene: a country struggling to defend itself from without and reconstruct itself from within.

It is little changed from the days when Mr. Blinken was a White House staffer in the Obama administration — and a warning that solutions might be years away still.

Mr. Blinken is the first senior Biden administration official to visit Kyiv, and his task when he meets with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will be to reassure him of American support against Russia’s ongoing aggression, which flared last month when Moscow built up more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border.

Russia began withdrawing those forces in late April, but still has many of them and all their equipment in place. It also continues to back a pro-Russian insurgency in a war in Ukraine’s east that has killed more than 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.

At the same time, Mr. Blinken will also renew American calls for change in Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt political system. That message acquired new urgency after Ukraine’s government last month ousted the head of the country’s national energy company in a move a State Department spokesman condemned as “just the latest example of ignoring best practices and putting Ukraine’s hard-fought economic progress at risk.”

Still, William B. Taylor Jr., a former top American diplomat in Ukraine, said a firm signal of American support against Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, was the clear priority.

Looming over Mr. Blinken’s visit is the resurrection of the political machinations involving Ukraine that led to President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial. Last week, F.B.I. agents raided the home and office of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, seeking evidence related to Mr. Giuliani’s role in the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in April 2019.

Ukrainian associates of Mr. Giuliani pressed Mr. Giuliani to oust the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, because they viewed her as a threat to their business interests, American diplomats testified during the impeachment hearings in 2019.

Just months after Ms. Yovanovitch was recalled from her post, Mr. Trump, while withholding military aid, asked Mr. Zelensky in a phone call for the “favor” of investigating President Biden, a political adversary, and members of his family. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Biden of wrongdoing when he was vice president in the Obama administration.

Untangling this situation became an early headache for Mr. Zelensky in the first months of his presidency.

Mr. Blinken’s trip comes a few weeks before Mr. Biden is likely to meet with Mr. Putin, during a trip to Europe. For now, Mr. Taylor said, that meeting in June serves as “a hostage” that may be preventing the Russian leader from sending troops across Ukraine’s border, though analysts remain divided about Mr. Putin’s motives in ordering the buildup. Some believe he may be simply trying to intimidate Mr. Zelensky and put Mr. Biden off balance.

With an eye on Russia’s threats and meddling, Ukrainian officials have said they are eager for more security aid from the Biden administration, but it is far from clear whether that will be forthcoming.

Credit…Rick Wilking/Reuters

President Biden delivered a clear and punchy message to America’s highest earners on Wednesday: I’m going to raise your taxes, but your vacation homes are safe.

In an exchange with reporters at the White House, Mr. Biden defended with gusto his plans to increase taxes on high earners and the wealthy. He railed against high-earning chief executives and promised that his plans were “about making the average multimillionaire pay just a fair share.”

“We’re not going to deprive any of these executives of their second or third home, travel privately by jet,” Mr. Biden said after brief remarks on an economic aid program he signed into law this year. “It’s not going to affect their standard of living at all. Not a little tiny bit. But I can affect the standard of living that people I grew up with.”

The comments were the latest example of Mr. Biden and his party embracing the political and economic upsides of his proposals to tax the rich — a fight that the White House is eager to wage as the president engages in bipartisan negotiations over his $4 trillion economic agenda and a contrast to how Democratic presidents in the past have talked about their tax-increase proposals.

Republicans and business groups have blasted Mr. Biden’s plans to use the tax increase on the wealthy to fund new spending on roads, bridges, low-carbon energy deployment, child care, education and a host of other initiatives by raising taxes on corporations, high earners and the wealthy.

Mr. Biden has responded by amplifying his arguments: In recent remarks, he has focused almost as much on the tax increases as he has on the programs they would pay for.

Republicans in Congress continue to warn that Mr. Biden’s tax increases could cripple an economy that is just beginning to recover from the pandemic downturn and hurt workers, even though the president has vowed not to raise taxes on individuals or households earning less than $400,000.

“Ultimately, his political standing is judged by the health and well-being of the economy,” said Josh Holmes, a political adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “What he’s talking about from a tax perspective is administration-assisted suicide.”

But after the coronavirus pandemic exposed in stark terms the gaps in income and wealth in the United States, Mr. Biden and his aides see a chance to turn the issue against Republicans who have long preached tax cuts and hammered Democrats for supporting any tax increases.

“On taxes, Biden has flipped the script on Republicans,” said Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago who worked in the Obama and Clinton administrations and is in line for an ambassadorship under Mr. Biden. “Especially since the Biden tax plan is popular with the G.O.P. base. Biden knows this and is taunting them head on.”

The Oval Office can be thought of as an ultra-high-profile rotating exhibition space, with the paintings and sculptures on display representing the choices of each American president. Presidential and art historians say that already, President Biden’s approach to art appears distinct from his predecessors.

  • The Biden administration has added sculptures of Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez. White House curators believe those artworks are among the first of women and people of color to be displayed in the Oval Office.

  • In a break from nine consecutive administrations that chose to display a portrait of George Washington in the prominent spot above the fireplace, Mr. Biden selected a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

  • Trump’s decorative choices reflected his admiration for Jackson — a president Trump embraced as a populist leader even as some Democrats were distancing themselves from him.

  • While some of the same landscapes and portraits appear over multiple administrations, presidents don’t exclusively tap the White House’s own art collection. President Nixon, for a time, hung a photograph of Earth, captured by the astronauts from the Apollo 8 mission, to the right of his desk.

Credit…Pool photo by Jonathan Ernst

Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, hit back at leaders of her own party on Wednesday, warning her colleagues that “history is watching” as they consider expelling her from their leadership ranks for continuing to reject Donald J. Trump’s election lies.

Ms. Cheney’s broadside, published Wednesday afternoon as an opinion essay in The Washington Post, came as the top two House Republicans were working to oust and replace her with a Trump loyalist, and after the former president weighed in demanding Republicans dethrone her. At issue is Ms. Cheney’s insistence on repeatedly rebuking her party for its role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and for embracing Mr. Trump’s lie that he won the 2020 presidential election.

In the column, Ms. Cheney warned that the Republican Party was at a “turning point,” and suggested that some Republicans were playing a dangerous game by continuing to support “the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fund-raising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country,” Ms. Cheney said. “Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful.”

Ms. Cheney also lashed out at Mr. McCarthy, noting that he initially agreed that Mr. Trump bore responsibility for the riot, only to walk the remarks back.

“History is watching. Our children are watching,” Ms. Cheney concluded. “We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”

Ms. Cheney’s column effectively acted as a rejoinder to Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber, who on Wednesday morning became the highest-ranking party figure to openly call for Ms. Cheney’s ouster and the elevation of Representative Elise Stefanik of New York in her place as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the third-ranking position. Lawmakers said Mr. McCarthy was also working the phones behind the scenes, urging colleagues to support Ms. Stefanik, a close ally and rising Republican star.

“House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda,” said Lauren Fine, Mr. Scalise’s spokeswoman. “Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for conference chair.”

Mr. Trump, who has seethed over Ms. Cheney’s criticism of him, piled on a short time later, deriding her as a “warmongering fool” and endorsing Ms. Stefanik, whom he called “a far superior choice.”

“We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First,” he wrote in a statement. “Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

Ms. Stefanik, who had been quietly building support among colleagues behind the scenes, wasted no time after Mr. Trump’s endorsement in declaring her intentions publicly. In a post on Twitter just minutes after his statement, she thanked him for his support and said Republicans were “unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!”

It was a remarkable show of force by the party’s top leaders to run out a once-popular figure now deemed unacceptable by fellow Republicans because she has rejected Mr. Trump’s lies and refused to absolve him or the party of its role in perpetuating the false claims of a fraudulent election that fueled the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The fate of Ms. Cheney, who survived a February bid to oust her after she voted to favor of impeaching Mr. Trump for his role in stirring up the riot, has once again become a bellwether for the direction of the Republican Party. It has implications for Republicans’ chances of wresting control of the House in 2022, and has become a test of whether loyalty to Trump and a tolerance for misinformation have overtaken conservatism as the party’s guiding orthodoxy.

The turmoil could come to a head as early as next week, when House Republicans are expected to meet and could call a vote to replace Ms. Cheney.

Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Unemployment filings fell again last week as the improving public health situation and the easing of pandemic-related restrictions allowed the labor market to continue its gradual return to normal.

About 505,000 people filed first-time applications for state jobless benefits, the Labor Department said Thursday, down more than 100,000 from a week earlier. In addition, 101,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for regular benefits. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.

Applications for unemployment benefits remain high by historical standards, but they have fallen significantly in recent weeks after progress stalled in the fall and winter. Weekly filings for state benefits, which peaked at more than six million last spring, fell below 700,000 for the first time in late March and has now been below that level for four straight weeks.

“In the last few weeks we’ve seen a pretty dramatic improvement in the claims data, and I think that does signal that there’s been an acceleration in the labor market recovery in April,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter.

Economists should get a clearer picture of the labor market’s progress on Friday when the Labor Department will release data on hiring and unemployment in April. The report is expected to show that employers added about one million jobs last month, up from 916,000 in March. The leisure and hospitality industry, which was hardest hit by the initial phase of the pandemic last spring, has led the way in the recovery in recent months, a trend that forecasters believe continued in April.

Many employers have said in recent weeks that they would like to hire even faster but have struggled to find enough workers. Some have blamed enhanced unemployment benefits for discouraging people from returning to work. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana said his state would pull out of a federal program offering enhanced benefits to unemployed workers and would instead pay a $1,200 bonus to recipients when they find new jobs.

Economic research has found that unemployment benefits can reduce the intensity with which workers search for jobs. But most studies find that the impact on the overall labor market is small, especially when unemployment is high. And Mr. Zhao and other economists say there are other reasons that labor supply might be rebounding more slowly than labor demand. Many potential workers are juggling child care or other responsibilities at home; others remain cautious about the health risks of returning to in-person work.

“I think we will see labor supply improve pretty dramatically in the coming months as the pandemic abates,” Mr. Zhao said.

Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Gary Gensler, the newly installed chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is testifying on Thursday, at noon Eastern time, before the House Financial Services Committee. He will address the meme-stock volatility in January that led to trading restrictions and prompted an outcry about Wall Street’s relationship with retail investors.

“I think these events are part of a larger story about the intersection of finance and technology,” Mr. Gensler will say in his prepared remarks, highlighting seven factors at play that also hint at his regulatory priorities in the months ahead:

  • Gamification. Fun features combined with predictive analytics on trading apps increase engagement. Watching a movie based on a streaming app recommendation, “we might lose a couple of hours,” Mr. Gensler said. “Following the wrong prompt on a trading app, however, could have a substantial effect on a saver’s financial position.” He suggested it may be time for new rules to address the practice.

  • Payment for order flow. Many retail brokers don’t charge fees for trades, earning money instead by directing customer orders to wholesalers to execute. More trades generate more payments, which raises questions about conflicts of interest, consumer protection and data aggregation, Mr. Gensler said.

  • Market structure. A few wholesalers account for a growing share of retail stock trading volume, with Citadel Securities particularly dominant. This concentration can “lead to fragility, deter healthy competition and limit innovation,” Mr. Gensler said.

  • Short-selling transparency. He wants to increase “transparency in the stock loan market.”

  • Social media. Investors exchanging views online is fine, but Mr. Gensler worries bad actors take advantage of legitimate debates. In particular, this risks sending false signals to algorithms that some investors use to gauge the “relationships between words and prices.”

  • Plumbing. When brokers restricted customer trading in meme stocks, they blamed clearinghouses and two-day settlement times. Mr. Gensler said same-day settlement is technologically possible and has asked for a draft proposal on speeding up settlement.

  • Systemic risks. The S.E.C. will issue a report over the summer, the chair said, examining what happened in detail during the meme-stock frenzy and considering “whether expanded enforcement mechanisms are necessary.”





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