Biden warns Russia will ‘pay a heavy price’ if Putin launches Ukraine invasion – as it happened

4 months ago

Biden warns Russia will ‘pay a heavy price’ if Putin launches Ukraine invasion – as it happened

The Guardian

Today's politics recap

  • Joe Biden clarified his comments about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, after the president appeared to downplay the threat of a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. “If any – any – assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said. “Let there be no doubt at all that, if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”
  • Biden’s initial comments about Ukraine had set off a flurry of criticism and a frantic clean-up effort by White House officials. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in response to Biden’s remarks, “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
  • The US Treasury issued sanctions against four Ukrainian officials believed to be involved in a Russian conspiracy to discredit Zelensky’s government. “Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” the Treasury statement accompanying the sanctions said.
  • The House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection requested the voluntary cooperation of Ivanka Trump. According to the letter sent by committee chairman Bennie Thompson, investigators are seeking information from Ivanka Trump on Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Mike Pence to attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
  • The Senate failed to pass Democrats’ voting rights bill or approve a change to the filibuster, underscoring the significant challenges that Biden faces in enacting his legislative agenda. During yesterday’s Senate session, the voting rights bill failed along party lines, while Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined their Republican colleagues in opposing a change to the filibuster.
  • The Supreme Court rejected the latest bid by abortion providers to block Texas’ law banning abortions as early as six weeks – when many people do not even know they are pregnant. In a dissent, justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “Today, for the fourth time, this court declines to protect pregnant Texans from egregious violations of their constitutional rights.”

Updated

The supreme court rejected the latest bid by abortion providers to block Texas’ law banning abortions as early as six weeks – when many people do not even know they are pregnant.

In a dissent, justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote: “Today, for the fourth time, this court declines to protect pregnant Texans from egregious violations of their constitutional rights.”

In December, the court allowed the Texas anti-abortion law, one of the strictest in the US, to remain in place, but left open the possibility of future challenges. The law encourages anyone to sue people suspected of providing or facilitating abortions, effectively giving rise to anti-abortion bounty hunters. It has led to an 80% reduction in abortions in state, Texas clinics say.

“Once again the supreme court has betrayed the people of Texas, who have been callously stripped of their constitutional right to abortion for more than four months now,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Updated

Setbacks for Biden at home and abroad as he marks challenging year in office

Joe Biden on Thursday marked a year since his inauguration as president obliged to confront the same urgent crises he inherited when he took the oath of office: an unrelenting pandemic, economic uncertainty and a democracy threatened by partisan division and lies.

But now those challenges have been compounded by a string of setbacks, both at home and abroad, that have eroded confidence in his leadership.

In his first public appearance of the day, 12 months on from the one where he swept Donald Trump out of the White House, Biden was in a position of having to clarify loose remarks he made the day before about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

During a marathon press conference on Wednesday afternoon to mark the anniversary of his presidency, Biden alarmed Kyiv by appearing to suggest that allies were divided over how to respond should a move by Moscow be a “minor incursion”.

On Thursday, speaking at the White House, he said “any” Russian movement across the Ukrainian border would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response” from Nato. He also vowed a response should Russia “use measures other than overt military actions”, such as “paramilitary tactics” and other methods of warfare.

Warning the Russian president, Biden said: “Let there be no doubt at all: if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”

Biden’s clarification came after the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted in English and Ukrainian: “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”

Biden made the initial remarks at a Wednesday press conference, during which he also mounted a nearly two-hour defense of his first year in office. He insisted that the administration had handled the coronavirus “remarkably well”, noting that tens of millions of Americans had been fully vaccinated. On the economy, he touted record low unemployment, and outlined his plans for taming inflation and alleviating supply chain bottlenecks.

Read more:

Updated

Today so far

That’s it from me today. My west coast colleague, Maanvi Singh, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Joe Biden clarified his comments about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, after the president appeared to downplay the threat of a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. “If any – any – assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said. “Let there be no doubt at all that, if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”
  • Biden’s initial comments about Ukraine had set off a flurry of criticism and a frantic clean-up effort by White House officials. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in response to Biden’s remarks, “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
  • The US Treasury issued sanctions against four Ukrainian officials believed to be involved in a Russian conspiracy to discredit Zelenskiy’s government. “Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” the Treasury statement accompanying the sanctions said.
  • The House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection requested the voluntary cooperation of Ivanka Trump. According to the letter sent by committee chairman Bennie Thompson, investigators are seeking information from Ivanka Trump on Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure Mike Pence to attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
  • The Senate failed to pass Democrats’ voting rights bill or approve a change to the filibuster, underscoring the significant challenges that Biden faces in enacting his legislative agenda. During yesterday’s Senate session, the voting rights bill failed along party lines, while Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined their Republican colleagues in opposing a change to the filibuster.

Maanvi will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated

A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump seemed to suggest that she did not have any relevant information to share with the House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.

“As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally,” the spokesperson said in a statement provided to CBS News.

“As she publicly stated that day at 3:15 pm, ‘any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.’”

However, in his letter to Ivanka Trump, committee chairman Bennie Thompson specifically said the panel is interested in any conversations she had with Donald Trump about efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

So even though Ivanka Trump did not speak at the January 6 rally that preceded the insurrection, it is still quite likely that she has relevant information for the investigation.

The statement makes it seem even less likely that Ivanka Trump will voluntarily agree to cooperate with the select committee.

Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin, a member of the House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection, said Ivanka Trump could be a “material fact witness” for the panel’s inquiry.

“If the former president has no executive privilege to hide evidence of an attempted coup or insurrection, neither do his family or friends,” the Maryland congressman said on Twitter.

“If Ivanka Trump was with Donald Trump as the attack unfolded, she is a material fact witness. I look forward to her testimony.”

According to the letter that committee chairman Bennie Thompson sent to Ivanka Trump, the panel is seeking information she may have about Trump’s efforts to pressure Mike Pence to attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

“As January 6th approached, President Trump attempted on multiple occasions to persuade Vice President Pence to participate in his plan,” Thompson said in the letter.

“One of the President’s discussions with the Vice President occurred by phone on the morning of January 6th. You were present in the Oval Office and observed at least one side of that telephone conversation.”

Thompson also requested information from Ivanka Trump on “any other conversations you may have witnessed or participated in regarding the President’s plan to obstruct or impede the counting of electoral votes”.

Ivanka Trump asked to cooperate with Capitol attack committee

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is asking Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the former president, to appear for a voluntary deposition to answer questions about Donald Trump’s efforts to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

The move by the panel marks an aggressive new phase in its inquiry into the 6 January insurrection, as House investigators seek for the first time testimony from a member of the Trump family about potential criminality on the part of the former president.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chair of the select committee, said in an 11-page letter to Ivanka Trump that the panel wanted to ask about Trump’s plan to stop the certification, and his response to the Capitol attack, including delays to deploying the national guard.

The questions to Ivanka appear directed at a key issue: whether her father oversaw a criminal conspiracy on 6 January that also involved obstructing a congressional proceeding – a crime.

The letter said that the panel first wanted to question Ivanka Trump about what she recalled of a heated Oval Office meeting on the morning of the 6 January insurrection when the former president was trying to co-opt Mike Pence into rejecting Biden’s win.

Read the Guardian’s full report:

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, pointed to the Treasury Department’s newly announced sanctions against four Ukrainian officials as an example of how the US is proactively responding to Russian aggression.

“We are not waiting to take action to counter Russia. We see what they’re doing. We’re disrupting it,” Psaki said at her daily briefing this afternoon.

“And these actions are also of course separate and distinct from the broad range of high-impact, severe measures we and our allies are prepared to impose in order to inflict significant costs should they invade.”

US accuses Russia of conspiring to take over Ukraine government

The Guardian’s Julian Borger, Luke Harding and Andrew Roth report:

The US has alleged that Russian intelligence is recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to take over the government in Kyiv and cooperate with a Russian occupying force.

The US Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two Ukrainian members of parliament and two former officials it said were involved in the alleged conspiracy, which involved discrediting the current government of the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” the Treasury statement accompanying the sanctions said.

The claims suggest US intelligence fears Russia is preparing a full-scale invasion and not the “minor incursion” that Joe Biden referred to as a possibility in remarks on Wednesday that triggered alarm in Kyiv.

Online researchers have identified Russian troops and military vehicles within just ten miles of Ukraine’s borders, increasing the risk that Vladimir Putin could launch a military offensive on short notice.

As she wrapped up her daily briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether Joe Biden plans to do more press conferences in the future.

“Stay tuned,” Psaki replied. “Buckle up, bring snacks next time.”

Biden’s press conference yesterday lasted nearly two hours, after the president decided to extend the event by calling on reporters who were not on the original list provided to him by his staff.

After taking questions for about an hour and a half, Biden looked at his watch and decided to keep talking for another 20 minutes -- likely to the chagrin of his press staff.

A reporter asked Jen Psaki for further clarification on Joe Biden’s comments about the possibility of Russia executing a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.

The president has since sought to clear up those comments, saying this morning, “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any -- any -- assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.”

Psaki said Biden was making the point yesterday that the US and its allies have “a range of tools” to respond to Russian aggression, which may take the form of paramilitary tactics like cyberattacks.

The press secretary also addressed Biden’s comment that there are “differences in Nato as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens”.

“We have been focused on ensuring that we remain united with Nato,” Psaki said. “Now united doesn’t mean that everything will be identical, right? It means we’re united in taking actions should they decide to invade. And we are united.”

A reporter pressed Jen Psaki again on Joe Biden’s comments yesterday about the legitimacy of the upcoming 2022 elections in the face of new voting restrictions in many states.

The reporter, Peter Alexander of NBC News, noted that Biden said yesterday, “I’m not going to say it’s going to be legit. The increase and the prospect of being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed.”

Alexander asked Psaki, “Yes or no: does the president believe, if all remains as it is right now, that the elections this fall will be legitimate?”

Psaki replied, “Yes, but the point that he was making was that, as recently as 2020 as we know, the former president was trying to work with local officials to overturn the vote count and not have ballots counted. And we have to be very eyes wide open about that and clear-eyed that that is the intention potentially of him and certainly of members of his party.”

Alexander then asked for clarification that Biden is confident in the legitimacy of the upcoming elections if no changes are made in voting rights legislation moving forward.

“Yes,” Psaki responded.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, is now holding her daily briefing, and she is continuing her efforts to clean up some of Joe Biden’s comments from his press conference yesterday.

A reporter asked Psaki whether Biden has confidence in the legitimacy of the 2022 elections, as Democrats struggle to pass their voting rights bill.

During his press conference, Biden was asked whether he had faith in the legitimacy of the upcoming midterm elections if Democrats are unable to pass their bill.

Biden responded, “It all depends on whether or not we’re able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election.”

Psaki reiterated that Biden was not intending to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the 2022 election but was instead making a point about how the 2020 election would have been illegitimate if election officials had cooperated with Donald Trump’s demands to overturn the results in battleground states.

The press secretary made the same point over Twitter this morning:

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell is attracting intense criticism for his comments about Black voters, which he made last night after Republican senators blocked Democrats’ voting rights bill (again).

Speaking to reporters after the bill failed and the Senate rejected a change to the filibuster, McConnell was asked for his message to minority voters who are concerned that they will not be able to vote unless the Democratic bill is enacted.

“The concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African-American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans,” McConnell said.

That comment sparked a lot of confusion among those who pointed out that African American voters are, in fact, Americans.

Democratic congressman Bobby Rush called out McConnell’s comment, saying in a tweet, “African Americans ARE Americans. #MitchPlease”

It’s also worth noting that studies indicate the voting restrictions enacted by 19 states in the past year will disproportionately impact voters of color.

Updated

Congressman Jamaal Bowman arrested outside Capitol amid voting rights protests - report

Demonstrators are right now outside the US Capitol demanding action to protect voting rights and election integrity in the US, following the Senate’s resounding refusal, once again, to pass legislation on this issue last night.

New York congressman Jamaal Bowman.
New York congressman Jamaal Bowman. Photograph: Eduardo Muñoz/AP

New York first-term Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman appears to have been arrested as part of the protests in Washington, DC.

His office has reported that at least 20 others were arrested, including “faith leaders and youth who have been hunger striking for our democracy,” according to spokesman Marcus Frias.

Demonstrators began gathering around midday, which is the time 12 months ago when Biden’s inauguration began on the Capitol front overlooking the crowds on the national mall.

The Capitol Police also put out a statement via Twitter, saying: “Just before 12:00 pm, demonstrators started blocking one side of the North Barricade outside the U.S. Capitol. We have already issued them three warnings. The demonstrators refused to move out of the driveway, so we are making arrests.”

Here is one protester’s tweet:

Georgia DA requests grand jury to investigate Trump efforts

The district attorney for Fulton county, Georgia, Fani Willis, is requesting a special grand jury to aid in her investigation of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, when he was still president but had lost the race to Democrat Joe Biden, a new report this afternoon reveals.

Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis photographed in her office on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The prosecutor weighing whether Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory said a decision on whether to bring charges could come as early as the first half of this year.
Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis photographed in her office on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The prosecutor weighing whether Donald Trump and others committed crimes by trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential election victory said a decision on whether to bring charges could come as early as the first half of this year. Photograph: Ben Gray/AP

The news has been broken by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, so that newspaper can take up the story about the prosecutor’s actions:

In a Thursday letter to Christopher S. Brasher, chief judge of Fulton County’s Superior Court, Willis said the move was needed because a “significant number of witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate with the investigation absent a subpoena requiring their testimony.”

She cited comments Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger made during an October 2021 interview with NBC News’ Chuck Todd, in which he said “if she wants to interview me, there’s a process for that.”

So-called special purpose grand juries are rarely used in Georgia but could be a valuable tool for Willis as she takes the extraordinary step of investigating the conduct of a president while he was in office.

Her probe, launched in February, is centered on the Jan. 2 phone call Trump placed to Raffensperger, in which he urged the Republican to “find” the votes to reverse Joe Biden’s win in Georgia in November 2020.

Special grand juries, which typically have 16 to 23 members, can’t issue indictments. But they can subpoena witnesses, compel the production of documents, inspect and enter into certain offices for the purposes of the investigation.

Willis said a special grand jury would be beneficial because jurors can be impaneled for a longer period and would be focused on the one probe. A regular Fulton County grand jury is seated for two months. Jurors typically hear hundreds of felony cases before their service ends.

The DA also requested that a Fulton County superior court judge be assigned to assist and supervise the special grand jury in carrying out its investigation and duties.

Willis’ request must be approved by a majority of the county’s superior court judges.

This is a developing story.

Today so far

Here’s where the day stands so far:

  • Joe Biden clarified his comments about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, after the president appeared to downplay the threat of a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. “If any -- any -- assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” Biden said. “Let there be no doubt at all that, if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”
  • Biden’s initial comments about Ukraine had set off a flurry of criticism and a frantic clean-up effort by White House officials. The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in response to Biden’s remarks, “We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
  • The Senate failed to pass Democrats’ voting rights bill or approve a change to the filibuster, underscoring the significant challenges that Biden faces in enacting his legislative agenda. During yesterday’s Senate session, the voting rights bill failed along party lines, while Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined their Republican colleagues in opposing a change to the filibuster.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

While emphasizing the severe consequences that Russia will suffer if Vladimir Putin launches a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden noted that the US and its allies are also prepared to respond to other forms of Russian aggression.

“Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression and paramilitary tactics, so-called gray zone attacks and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms,” Biden told reporters at the start of his infrastructure meeting.

The president added, “We have to be ready to respond to these as well in a decisively united way with the range of tools at our disposal.”

Biden noted that the Ukrainian foreign minister has indicated confidence in America’s commitment to protecting Ukraine, and he echoed that assessment.

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told the Wall Street Journal, “We in Ukraine have no doubt that President Biden is committed to Ukraine … and he wants to prevent the conflict and deter Russia.”

However, Kuleba also issued a warning about the danger of downplaying any threat from Russia, saying, “We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small incursion operations. This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact.”

Biden clarifies Ukraine comments: 'Russia will pay a heavy price' for invasion

Joe Biden sought to clarify his comments from yesterday about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, after the US president appeared to downplay the threat of a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.

Speaking at the start of a meeting on infrastructure, Biden told reporters moments ago, “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any -- any -- assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.”

Biden said such an invasion would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response,” which he has “discussed in detail with our allies as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin”.

He added, “But there is no doubt — let there be no doubt at all that, if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”

Biden’s comments come one day after he seemed to imply that Nato was at odds over how to respond to Russian aggression depending upon the type of attack that was launched against Ukraine.

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said at his press conference yesterday.

“And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”

That comment required a coordinated clean-up effort from Biden administration officials, with Kamala Harris and Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, seeking to clarify that the US and its allies are united in responding to Russian aggression.

'There are no minor incursions,' Ukrainian president says after Biden's flub

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, delivered some thinly veiled criticism of Joe Biden’s remarks yesterday about a potential Russian invasion.

“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Zelenskiy said.

“Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power.”

That appeared to be a direct reference to Biden’s comment at his press conference yesterday, when the US president outlined the various responses that Nato is considering if Russia escalates its aggression toward Ukraine.

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said. “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”

Biden and his aides later tried to clarify that he was attempting to distinguish between an actual invasion and other threats against Ukraine, such as cyberattacks.

However, Biden’s flippant remark has clearly sparked some anxiety among Ukrainian officials.

Kamala Harris has joined in on the White House’s campaign to repair Joe Biden’s flub on Ukraine in his press conference on Wednesday, where he revealed Nato is divided on how to respond to a “minor incursion” from Russia.

“The president of the United States has been very clear, and we as the United States are very clear: if Putin takes aggressive action, we are prepared to levy serious and severe costs. Period,” Harris said in a Thursday morning appearance on NBC’s Today Show.

Host Savannah Guthrie countered that the White House had been “less than clear”, issuing a statement just minutes after Biden’s press conference affirming the “united response” between the US and its allies.

“Savannah, I’m being clear with you right now. If you’re interested, I’ll continue to be clear,” Harris said in response.

During his press conference yesterday, Biden said there were “differences in Nato as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens”.

Harris went on the defense for Biden when Guthrie asked how “damaging” it was that Biden “openly talked about division within Nato countries and Nato allies”.

“I think your audience knows Joe Biden has been working as the former head of foreign relations, and as the former vice-president and a senator in a role of leadership on foreign policy, for years,” Harris said.

“I have witnessed him continuously engage in direct and honest conversations with our partners and allies, and this is no exception.”

Biden faces backlash after downplaying 'minor incursion' into Ukraine

Joe Biden held a nearly two-hour-long press conference yesterday, taking questions from dozens of reporters as he marked one year in office.

One answer that the president gave in response to a question about Ukraine is attracting a lot of attention (and often scorn) both at home and abroad.

A reporter asked the president about whether he believed the threatened economic sanctions against Russia would be enough to deter Vladimir Putin from approving an invasion of Ukraine.

“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said.

He then added, “And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”

Biden later clarified that he was distinguishing between Russia actually moving troops across Ukraine’s border and the Kremlin continuing to launch cyberattacks on its neighbor.

But the comment sparked fears that Biden was essentially giving Putin permission to launch an invasion, prompting White House press secretary Jen Psaki to release a statement further clarifying his position last night.

“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” Psaki said.

“President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”

Nancy Pelosi sharply criticized Senate Republicans for blocking Democrats’ voting rights bill, which passed the House in a party-line vote last week.

“On Monday, our nation celebrated the birthday of civil rights hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his courage, leadership and sacrifice for our democracy,” the House speaker said.

“Today, Senate Republicans have dishonored his leadership and legacy by blocking passage of urgently needed legislation to protect voting rights and our democracy.”

Pelosi described the voting restrictions that have been enacted in 19 states over the past year, combined with Donald Trump’s “big lie” of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, as “the most severe and sinister threat to our democracy since the era of Jim Crow”.

“Yet, an arcane Senate Rule – one that clearly conflicts with the intentions of our Founders and has long been used to block progress on civil rights – continues to stand in the way of enacting this vital legislation,” Pelosi said.

“In the fight for voting rights, nothing less than our democracy is at stake. Democrats will never relent in our mission to safeguard the sacred right to vote.”

Democrats’ voting rights proposals have failed in the Senate before, but Wednesday marks the first time senators have taken a formal vote on changing the filibuster. Its likely failure marks a profound setback for Joe Biden’s presidential agenda.

The president spent an enormous amount of political capital in recent weeks pressuring Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to support rule changes to the filibuster, giving a speech in Atlanta and traveling to Capitol Hill to try to get support.

In stirring remarks just before the vote on the voting rights bill, Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia, said senators could not praise the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr while voting against voting rights.

“You cannot remember MLK and dismember his legacy at the same time,” Warnock said. “I will not sit quietly while some make Dr King a victim of identity theft.”

The bill that failed on Wednesday, Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act, combined two major voting rights bills into a single mega bill.

It would have set a national baseline for election access, guaranteeing 15 days of early voting as well as online voter registration. It protected local election officials from harassment and partisan interference in their jobs and curbed gerrymandering, the severe distortion of partisan district lines.

It also restored a key piece of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required places with a history of voting discrimination to get their changes approved by either the justice department or a federal court in Washington before they go into effect.

Joe Biden expressed severe disappointment in the Senate’s failure to pass Democrats’ voting rights bill or amend the filibuster for the legislation.

In a statement released after the votes, the president condemned the “unprecedented effort to suppress the sacred right to vote” unfolding in state legislatures across the country.

“In the face of those threats, I am profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy. I am disappointed — but I am not deterred,” Biden said.

The president pledged that his administration would continue its efforts to protect voting rights and strengthen election systems, even in the face of the demoralizing defeat.

“My Administration will never stop fighting to ensure that the heart and soul of our democracy — the right to vote — is protected at all costs,” Biden said.

“As dangerous new Republican laws plainly designed to suppress and subvert voting rights proliferate in states across the country, we will explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy.”

Filibuster failure shows Biden's struggle to enact agenda

Greetings, live blog readers.

Senate Democrats suffered painful failures on two fronts last night – first on voting rights and then on filibuster reform.

Democrats’ voting rights bill failed to advance because of a Republican filibuster, which requires 60 votes for legislation to move forward.

The final vote on the voting rights bill was 49-51, with every Republican voting against the proposal. (Majority leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote from “yes” to “no” because that will allow him to bring up the matter again later.)

The Senate then voted on a rule change that would have allowed the voting rights legislation to circumvent the traditional legislative filibuster.

That measure was defeated in a vote of 48 to 52, with Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joining their Republican colleagues in opposing the proposal.

The results of the votes demonstrate that challenges that Joe Biden faces in enacting his agenda, as he marks one year since he took office.

With a 50-50 Senate, it will be extremely difficult to pass another other major bills before the midterm elections. And if Democrats cannot enact their agenda, they will likely face some angry voters in November.

The blog will have more coming up, so stay tuned.