Biden Tells Putin to ‘Take Action’ on Online Criminal Organizations
President Biden on Friday urged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to “take action to disrupt” online criminal organizations in his country and said that the United States reserves the right to respond against hackers who launch ransomware attacks from inside Russia, according to a White House readout of a telephone call between the two leaders.
The call came in the wake of a ransomware attack over the July 4 weekend in which a Russia-based group called REvil, an abbreviation of “ransomware evil,” hacked a Florida company that provides software to thousands of smaller firms. Russian hackers were also accused of breaching a contractor for the Republican National Committee last week.
“Biden underscored the need for Russia to take action to disrupt ransomware groups operating in Russia and emphasized that he is committed to continued engagement on the broader threat posed by ransomware,” the White House statement said. “President Biden reiterated that the United States will take any necessary action to defend its people and its critical infrastructure in the face of this continuing challenge.”
The United States intelligence agencies have said they do not believe that the Russian government was directly involved in the REvil attack. But Mr. Biden and top officials have repeatedly said that they believe Russia should be doing more to disrupt the networks of criminals that launch such attacks.
Mr. Biden said he told Mr. Putin that during a face-to-face meeting in Geneva several weeks ago. And after meeting with his top cyber officials earlier this week, Mr. Biden told reporters that he “will deliver” that message again to Mr. Putin, but he did not make clear when that would happen.
The readout of Friday’s call ended the suspense.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, offered few details about the call beyond what the White House released in the statement. She declined to say what Mr. Putin’s response was during the call.
But she said the call was evidence that Mr. Biden intends to remain in frequent touch with the leader of Russia, in person and otherwise.
“First, let me say that the president is a believer in face-to-face diplomacy when possible, and leader-to-the-leader diplomacy, when that’s not possible, and this is an example of that,” she said.
President Biden on Friday will encourage federal agencies to crack down on the way major tech companies grow through mergers and gain a competitive advantage by leveraging reams of consumer data, as part of a larger executive order aimed at dispersing corporate consolidation throughout the economy.
The executive order includes several measures specifically targeting big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon, people with knowledge of its contents said.
The order will tell the federal agencies that approve mergers that they should scrutinize the tech industry’s practices more closely. A second provision will encourage the Federal Trade Commission to write rules limiting how the tech giants use consumer data, a response to criticism that companies like Amazon can leverage what they know about users to gain the upper hand on competing services and businesses.
The order is Mr. Biden’s latest acknowledgment of concerns that the tech giants have obtained outsize market power, becoming gatekeepers to commerce, communications and culture. A growing group of lawmakers, academics and rival companies say government regulators failed to check the growth of the companies for more than a decade. To address the companies’ market power, they say, policymakers need to aggressively enforce antitrust laws and possibly rewrite them to better capture Silicon Valley’s business models.
Mr. Biden has already put some vocal critics of Big Tech in leadership positions. In the White House, he appointed Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor and outspoken proponent of breaking up companies like Facebook, as a special adviser on competition. He named Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Khan has also called for the breakup of big tech companies and worked on a House antitrust investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
Big Tech’s critics also often argue that the economy on a whole has become more concentrated to the detriment of consumers — including in industries like agriculture, medicine and fashion. And some White House officials hope the order will hark back to the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who highlighted the rise of big business and installed government officials opposed to concentration, the people said.
But his administration is limited in its reach. The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are independent agencies that enforce existing antitrust and communications laws. Those laws have barely changed since before the mass adoption of the internet.
In seeking to protect workers and consumers from what his administration views as the harmful consequences of corporate consolidation, President Biden is enlisting support from regulators across the executive branch in what the White House has described as an overarching, “whole-of-government” effort.
As part of the executive order Mr. Biden plans to sign on Friday, the White House will ask more than a dozen federal agencies for input and action on 72 initiatives designed to increase competition and limit the power of large corporations across a wide range of industries. The order takes aim at a number of highly specific practices the White House has identified as problematic in sectors as diverse as agriculture, health care, transportation and technology.
It calls on the Department of Transportation to create rules requiring airlines to refund fees when baggage is lost or delayed, or when services like in-flight Wi-Fi aren’t provided. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to propose rules within 120 days allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter. And it encourages the Federal Trade Commission to curb the power of farm equipment manufacturers who often block farmers from repairing their own appliances.
It directs the Federal Communications Commission to bar internet companies from charging consumers termination fees when they switch providers. And it asks the Agriculture Department to prevent meatpacking companies from underpaying chicken farmers.
But the order also aims to address more far-reaching issues the government has struggled with for years. The order asks the health department to standardize health care options in the National Health Insurance Marketplace to make it easier for shoppers to compare plans. And it directs the F.C.C. to revive the net neutrality policy repealed under the Trump administration in order to bar internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to certain web content.
White House officials announced some of the other initiatives on Wednesday, including action to restrict the widespread use of noncompete clauses and occupational licensing requirements that the White House has described as harmful to workers.
“Roughly half of private sector businesses require at least some employees to enter noncompete agreements, affecting over 30 million people — this affects construction workers, hotel workers, many blue-collar jobs, not just high-level executives,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday. “If someone offers you a better job, you should be able to take it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance for schools on Friday, urging them to fully reopen and calling on local districts to tailor their public health measures to local coronavirus data.
The recommendations signal a change from the C.D.C.’s past guidelines for schools and arrive less than a month before the first day of school for some districts.
Here’s what we know.
“Layered” prevention strategies
The new guidance continues to recommend that students be spaced at least three feet apart, but schools can rely on combining other strategies, like indoor masking, testing and enhanced ventilation, if such spacing would prevent them from fully reopening.
The guidance suggests masks for all unvaccinated students, teachers or staff members.
The guidance relies greatly on the concept of “layered” prevention, or using multiple strategies at once, like regular screening testing, improving ventilation, promoting hand washing and contact tracing combined with isolation or quarantine, in addition to social distancing and masking.
It also strongly urges schools to promote vaccination, which it called “one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely resume full operations.” But a vaccine has not been authorized for children younger than 12, so a large percentage of students would not be protected from the virus in that manner.
A more local approach
The issue of school closures has been contentious and divisive since the pandemic began, and advising school districts has been fraught for the C.D.C. The updated guidance acknowledges that a uniform approach to regulating schools is not useful when virus caseloads and vaccination rates vary so greatly, and suggests that local officials decide on the best precautions for their schools.
In order to do so effectively those officials should closely monitor the virus in their areas, and if districts choose to remove prevention strategies they should remove one at a time, monitoring for any increases in Covid-19, the recommendations say.
The virus and children
Though there are far fewer cases overall than during the winter peak, children have increasingly made up a greater proportion of cases as the pandemic has gone on and, recently, as more adults have been vaccinated.
Serious illnesses and death among children have been rare, and young children are also less likely to transmit the virus to others than are teens and adults. But scientists are concerned about an inflammatory syndrome that can emerge in children weeks after they contract the virus, even those who were not symptomatic when they were infected, and some children experience lingering symptoms often known as long Covid.
And the highly transmissible Delta variant is spreading rapidly in parts of the country with low rates of vaccination — the C.D.C. estimates it is now the dominant variant in the country. Studies suggest that vaccines remain effective against the Delta variant.
The Biden administration will ease restrictions placed on undocumented people who are pregnant, postpartum or nursing, the latest change in its broader efforts to soften immigration detention policies put in place by former President Donald J. Trump.
Under the new policy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers generally will not detain or arrest people who are pregnant or nursing, or who had a baby within the previous year, according to a draft of the plan shared with The New York Times and a person familiar with the policy. The language in the policy will be gender neutral, acknowledging that transgender men can give birth — another departure from past directives.
The number of pregnant immigrants in detention increased sharply under Mr. Trump, who reversed a policy put in place in 2016 by President Barack Obama that called for detaining them only under extraordinary circumstances.
Since 2016, ICE has arrested undocumented pregnant immigrants more than 4,000 times, according to internal government data shared with The Times. The number in custody has fallen more recently, partly because of measures to reduce the number of people in congregate settings who are at greater risk of contracting Covid-19. There are currently fewer than 20 such immigrants in custody, staying for an average of three days.
Immigration advocates welcomed President Biden’s new policy, which they said went even further than the 2016 version that was issued when he was vice president. But like Mr. Biden’s other immigration policies to date — all of which have been made through executive orders or directives and not codified in law — protections for undocumented pregnant and postpartum immigrants could disappear under a future administration, just as Mr. Trump rewrote Mr. Obama’s policy.
Though the new policy will affect only a small number of immigrants, it could rankle some conservatives who previously supported an effort by Mr. Trump to nullify the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship, in part to deter migrants from trying to get into the country to deliver babies.
Late nights. Weekend votes. Maybe even the cancellation of part of Congress’s prized August recess. The Senate’s top leader warned Democrats on Friday to expect an arduous sprint when the chamber returns to session next week to try to push forward much of President Biden’s ambitious economic agenda in two hulking bills.
In a letter mapping out the weeks ahead, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, confirmed that before the Senate leaves town for the summer, he intends to hold votes on both a bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget blueprint for a much larger Democratic bill focused on health care, the environment and social services.
“Please be advised that time is of the essence and we have a lot of work to do,” Mr. Schumer wrote. “Senators should be prepared for the possibility of working long nights, weekends, and remaining in Washington into the previously scheduled August state work period.”
Democratic leaders are hoping the specter of squandered plans will help motivate senators to get through a crush of complicated legislative work that could yield some of the most impactful policy in a decade. If Mr. Schumer is successful, it would advance the largest investment in roads, bridges and other infrastructure in generations and pave the way for a vote by late September to adopt a dramatic expansion of the social safety net and aggressive programs to fight climate change.
But they are likely to face a minefield of challenges in the weeks ahead, any of which could derail the process. A group of moderate Democrats and Republicans agreed to a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure framework late last month, but they still have to turn it into legislation that can win 60 votes in the Senate and pass the Democratic-led House, which has its own alternative proposal.
At the same time, Democrats will be undertaking a separate effort to push through a far broader economic package using a budget maneuver known as reconciliation that would allow them to sidestep a Republican filibuster. Moderates and progressives are at odds over how much to spend on that measure, which would require the support of all 50 Democrats and independents.
Progressives led by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont are pushing for up to $6 trillion in new spending, paid for by tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, but potentially also new debt. Moderates led by Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia are eyeing a figure that may be one third of that or less, and are wary of deficit spending.
In his letter, Mr. Schumer said that Democrats would also use its session this month to confirm more judges nominated by Mr. Biden, including a potential nominee to the Supreme Court should a vacancy open up. The comment was a reference to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 82, the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, whom many Democrats are hoping will retire while their party still has the votes to confirm a replacement.
“As always, Senate Democrats stand ready to expeditiously fill any potential vacancies on the Supreme Court should they arise,” Mr. Schumer wrote.
The world’s top economic leaders are convening on Friday to hash out crucial details of a deal to put an end to global tax havens and force multinational corporations to pay an appropriate share of tax wherever they operate.
Negotiations are entering what officials hope to be the final stretch as finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations meet. Officials hope to complete a deal by October, when the leaders of the G20 countries return to Italy for the last summit of the year, Alan Rappeport reports for The New York Times.
Last week, 130 countries backed a conceptual framework for the new tax plan.
The blueprint includes a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent. The agreement also is intended to put an end to a cascade of digital services taxes that many countries around the world, including Britain, France and Italy, are adopting to capture more tax revenue from American technology companies.
The United States wants European countries to drop their digital services taxes immediately, but policymakers have suggested that they could remain in place until a new agreement is fully enacted, which could take years. The European Union is also pressing ahead with a new digital levy even as the tax talks proceed.
Other outstanding issues remain to be worked out this weekend and in the coming months, including the exact rate that global companies would face.
Republicans in the Texas Legislature on Thursday fully unveiled their plans to overhaul the state’s election apparatus, proposing restrictions to voting access that would be among the most far-reaching election laws passed this year.
The G.O.P. bills, which will be debated in the coming days during the Legislature’s special session, largely resemble those from the Republicans’ initial attempt to pass a sweeping voting bill, which failed in the last legislative session after Democrats staged a late-night walkout.
Among many changes and restrictions to the state’s electoral process, both bills would ban 24-hour voting and drive-through voting; prohibit election officials from sending out absentee ballots to voters who have not requested them; add new voter identification requirements for voting by mail; limit third-party ballot collection; increase the criminal penalties for election workers who run afoul of regulations; limit what assistance can be provided to voters; and greatly expand the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers.
But the new bills do not include two of the most contentious provisions from the previous iteration. There is no longer a limitation on Sunday voting (it can now begin at 9 a.m.) and there is no provision making it easier to overturn an election.
The Republican bills are the first new pieces of voting legislation to be introduced by a state legislature since the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold voting restrictions in Arizona, a ruling that gave states greater latitude to enact voting limits.
Texas follows several other major battleground states controlled by Republicans that have passed substantial overhauls of their election laws and enacted new voting restrictions this year. Since January, at least 22 bills to make voting more difficult have been signed into law in 14 states, part of a broad, Republican-led push after the 2020 election to rein in voting access.
Since the failed attempt to pass the legislation during the spring session, Republican leaders in the Legislature have signaled an accelerated schedule for the voting bills in the special session. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who also serves as president of the Senate in Texas, set a committee hearing on that chamber’s bill for Saturday.
The White House has helped develop a system for Hunter Biden to sell pieces of his art without him, or anyone in the administration, knowing who bought them, the latest effort to respond to criticism over how President Biden’s son makes his money.
Under the arrangement, a New York City art dealer would sell the paintings, which the dealer has said he is pricing at between $75,000 and $500,000, while keeping secret all information about the sales, according to a person familiar with the plan.
The gallerist, Georges Bergès, has agreed to not share any information about the buyers or prices of Hunter Biden’s work with anyone. Mr. Bergès has also agreed to reject any offer that appears suspicious, such as one well beyond the asking price, the person familiar with the matter said.
Hunter Biden has been under scrutiny for years over business dealings around the world that often intersected with his father’s official duties. His work in Ukraine in particular became a political flash point, helping to lead indirectly to the first impeachment proceedings against President Donald J. Trump, and his business dealings in China became a campaign issue last year.
Hunter Biden is also under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware over his taxes. He has said he is confident he will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
He has taken up painting in recent years, and his efforts to sell his works created a new ethics challenge for the White House, which came under pressure to ensure that buyers would not purchase them in an effort to curry favor with or gain access to the administration.
While some government ethics watchdogs defended the right of the president’s adult son to pursue a career, others raised concerns that the new arrangement lacked sufficient safeguards to prevent improper influence over the administration from potential purchasers.
“I think it’s creative,” Ms. Canter said. “I guess they want to manage the conflict but the problem will be enforcement. Unless you have the purchaser sign nondisclosure agreements, this information would come out.”
The administration should also specifically prohibit officers of foreign governments from purchasing the pieces of art, she said. The Treasury Department warned last year that the anonymity of high-value art transactions could make the market attractive to those engaging in illegal financial activities or people subject to U.S. sanctions.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the White House, said the arrangement, which was previously reported by The Washington Post, would ensure ethical dealings.
The United States has reached a deal with Mexico to give workers at a General Motors plant in the country the ability to vote on a collective bargaining agreement in “free and democratic conditions.”
It is the first step toward remediation of a complaint the Biden administration filed in May, using a new “rapid response” mechanism in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement last year. The new agreement included language giving factory workers in the United States, Canada and Mexico the right to form unions and authorized penalties for factories that violated workers’ rights of free association and collective bargaining.
In a statement, Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, portrayed Thursday’s deal as a win for the Biden administration’s commitment to workers.
“Reaching an agreement with Mexico on a remediation plan shows the U.S.M.C.A.’s potential to protect workers’ rights and the benefits of a worker-centered trade policy,” Ms. Tai said. “Fully implementing and enforcing the U.S.M.C.A. not only helps workers there, it also helps American workers by preventing trade from becoming a race to the bottom.”
The deal comes after the Biden administration asked Mexico in May to review whether labor violations had occurred at the Silao plant, located in the central state of Guanajuato. The administration said it had received information indicating “serious violations” of workers’ rights associated with an April vote on a collective bargaining agreement.
The remediation plan calls for a new vote to be held by Aug. 20, which Mexico’s Labor Ministry will oversee to ensure that the voting area is secure and ballots are safeguarded. If the vote does not occur, the collective bargaining agreement will be terminated, but workers will retain their rights and other unions can negotiate on behalf of workers.
Mexico will send federal inspectors to the plant starting this week and continuing through the vote.