Biden and Macron Try to Mend Relations After Diplomatic Feud

The two spoke for the first time after President Emmanuel Macron of France recalled his country’s ambassador to the U.S. Here’s the latest in politics.,

Daily Political Briefing

Sept. 22, 2021Updated Sept. 22, 2021, 5:42 p.m. ETSept. 22, 2021, 5:42 p.m. ET

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/1:29

-0:00

transcript

Biden’s Call with Macron ‘Friendly,’ White House Says

President Biden spoke with President Emmanuel Macron of France for the first time since a new defense arrangement between the United States, Britain and Australia scuttled a $66 billion French submarine project.

“In terms of the tone of the call, it was friendly, it was one where we’re hopeful and the president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important abiding relationship that the United States has with France. It was about 30 minutes long. As we noted in the readout and as you said, it was extensive. But part of the — during the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European engagement, I should say, in the Indo-Pacific region, something that we look forward to continuing to work with them on. And as we said in the readout, the French ambassador will return to Washington next week and he will then start intensive work with U.S. officials that will be part of the ongoing next steps that we go from here. And as we also noted, they will meet in Europe at the end of October. I can only speak for our relationship with the French, and our relationship with the United Kingdom, and I will say that the president during this call, as we said in the readout, acknowledged that there could be more of a — there could have been more discussion in advance of the announcement. And that was an important — important message for him to convey during that conversation. So I can’t speak to the comments and whether they’re constructive or not from other countries.” “Did the president apologize to his French friend?” “He acknowledged there could have been greater consultation, but again, this call was really focused on the path forward and returning back to normal, and the important work we have to do with the French ahead.”

Video player loading
President Biden spoke with President Emmanuel Macron of France for the first time since a new defense arrangement between the United States, Britain and Australia scuttled a $66 billion French submarine project.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Stefano Rellandini

President Biden and President Emmanuel Macron of France took a tentative first step to repairing damaged relations, speaking on Wednesday for the first time since the United States and Britain entered a broad new defense arrangement with Australia that scuttled a $66 billion French project to build attack submarines.

The deal — which the United States, Britain and Australia secretively prepared — led France to declare that its oldest ally had engaged in “lies” and “duplicity” and suggest that the foundations of the NATO alliance had been shaken.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron agreed to meet in Europe next month, most likely on the margins of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Italy. White House aides said it was also possible that the leaders would meet separately to underscore their resolve to mend their relationship.

The White House described the conversation on Wednesday as “friendly,” days after Mr. Macron recalled the French ambassador to the United States, a first. Mr. Macron agreed to send the ambassador, Philippe Etienne, back to Washington next week.

While the United States has not apologized for keeping France in the dark, a joint statement said that “the two leaders agreed that the situation would have benefited from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners.”

This, a previous French statement had made clear, was the minimum U.S. expression of regret or contrition sought by Mr. Macron, who was enraged by the maneuvering behind his back over the past several months.

The statement said that “President Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard,” and that the countries had “decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence and proposing concrete measures toward common objectives.”

While the statement was written in bland diplomatic language, it described the kinds of consultations that are supposed to be routine among NATO allies.

The joint announcement said that Mr. Biden had sought the call, a point reiterated several times in Paris in recent days. For Mr. Macron, who faces a presidential election in April, any suggestion of supplication would have been unacceptable.

The statement referred vaguely to common European defense projects, but those did not appear to be new; the wording seemed to be drawn largely from previous NATO statements.

However, it did say that a “more capable European defense” should be “complementary” to NATO, an interesting choice of words in that the French believe it is essential that a united Europe build up its own defenses. The United States has tended to encourage increased European spending on defense within NATO.

The United States and France have often tangled over the years, most recently in 2003 over the start of the Iraq War — which France opposed — and President Barack Obama’s last-minute decision not to bomb Syria in 2013, when French fighters jets were “hours” from military strikes, as President Francois Hollande of France put it.

The fights, reflecting France’s prickly determination not to be seen as subservient to a far greater power, have cooled in time. But never before had France withdrawn its ambassador, and never before has the raison d’etre of NATO appeared more shaky, as the United States focuses on Asia and European countries wonder about the degree of American commitment to their defense.

United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Mr. Macron should, “prenez un grip” — bad French for “get a grip.Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

If French-American relations appeared to inch from rock bottom, there was no sign of any improvement in France’s damaged relations with Britain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who is visiting the United States, suggested Mr. Macron should “prenez un grip” — bad French for “get a grip.” In defending the agreement that had enraged the French president, Mr. Johnson said, “donnez-moi un break” — “give me a break.”

Mr. Macron appeared unlikely to find this funny.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has not endeared himself to the British government by saying that the country’s “permanent opportunism” was well known to France and that the British were “the fifth wheel of the carriage” in the submarine deal. Relations between the two countries have not recovered from Brexit.

U.S. officials were belatedly searching for special projects they could announce to reaffirm the relationship with France, including new initiatives in the Indo-Pacific. But some senior officials said they were concerned that anything they put together might look like a transparent, face-saving effort, especially when compared with the scope of the Australian, U.S. and British partnership.

The core of the announcement last week was a plan to build nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines, to be operated by the Australian navy, that are clearly intended to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific. The submarines would have a far larger range than the diesel-electric models that France was planning to build under a deal announced in 2019.

But the true import of the new arrangement was far larger: It firmly tied Australia to the Western defense camp in challenging China, after years in which Australian leaders tried to carefully balance their most important defense and intelligence ally in Washington and their biggest customer for natural resources in Beijing. Now, after the Chinese government overplayed its hand with political bullying and major disinformation campaigns in Australia, the country has declared itself a full partner in the Western effort to counter China.

Still, if the move strengthened a new alliance, it weakened an old one: NATO. The decision came as a shock to French leaders, who knew the submarine deal was in trouble but were kept in the dark about the one that replaced it. No decision has been made on the return to Canberra of the French ambassador to Australia, who was also recalled.

The statement before the meeting from the Elysee Palace said that Mr. Macron expected “clarifications on the American decision to keep an ally out of exchanges establishing cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.”

That statement, reflecting Mr. Macron’s anger over what is seen in France as a betrayal, added that the United States should fully recognize “the necessity of reinforcing European sovereignty, as well as the importance of the growing European engagement in their defense and their security.”

The French president did not succeed in securing a reference to “European sovereignty” — a delicate term for the United States as well as several of France’s partners in the European Union — but he did seem to gain U.S. agreement for much of what he sought.

Mr. Macron was particularly offended, Western diplomats said, that Mr. Biden made no mention of the deal when they met in June for another summit meeting. The same day, Mr. Biden also met with Mr. Johnson and Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia to put some finishing touches on their deal.

U.S. officials insisted that the president was not seeking to deceive the French, but instead was relying on Australia to break the news to Mr. Macron. They said that it was not up to the United States to disentangle Australia from its contract with France.

Mr. Biden met separately with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Morrison on Tuesday. Their deal has been portrayed in France as “Anglo-Saxon” maneuvering against continental Europe, reflecting a widespread belief that the degree of trust between Anglophone countries can never be matched with a Gallic partner.

“We weren’t making any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform for Americans’ policing,” said Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Democrats’ lead emissary for the talks.Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers attempting to strike a bipartisan compromise on a national policing overhaul declared on Wednesday that their efforts had failed, formally ending the latest round of negotiations amid the same disagreements that had bedeviled them for more than a year.

The announcement by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Democrats’ lead emissary on the issue, acknowledged what had been apparent for months, as talks had fizzled with no sign of a breakthrough. It all but closed off the possibility that Congress would act on an issue that President Biden had promised to tackle, amid a groundswell of public support for addressing systemic racism in law enforcement.

A group of Republicans and Democrats began negotiating in April following the guilty verdict of a police officer in the George Floyd murder trial, hoping the ruling would provide momentum to break an impasse that had persisted since Mr. Floyd’s death in 2020. But for months preceding Wednesday’s announcement, negotiators had been unable to come to an agreement on a slew of issues, including whether to change criminal and civil penalties to make it easier to punish police officers for misconduct.

“We weren’t making any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform for Americans’ policing,” Mr. Booker said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Mr. Booker said he called Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who had been negotiating on behalf of Republicans, on Wednesday morning and determined they would not be able to bridge what had become “too wide a gulf.” Both men had previously set several deadlines for a breakthrough but had barreled through them each time, publicly expressing optimism that a deal was just within reach.

In a statement, Mr. Scott blamed Democrats for the collapse, accusing them of letting their “misguided idea of perfect be the enemy of good, impactful legislation.”

A wide array of issues had dogged the negotiations for months, including restrictions on deadly use of force, the creation of a national database to track police misconduct and whether victims of misconduct could more easily sue officers or their departments in court.

Their efforts were complicated by internal squabbling among police unions, as Republican lawmakers were reluctant to cross the National Sheriffs’ Association, a more conservative union. On Wednesday, Mr. Booker vented frustration that its opposition to the bill had superseded the progress that he and other Democrats had made in winning support from other police union groups, including the powerful Fraternal Order of Police.

“The painful thing for me is we pulled off some pretty big accomplishments,” Mr. Booker said. “We got the F.O.P. and International Association of Chiefs of Police to agree on some pretty incredible things that would have improved the profession, that would have protected police officers.”

Mr. Biden said in a statement on Wednesday that he still hoped “to sign into law a comprehensive and meaningful police reform bill that honors the name and memory of George Floyd.” He signaled that his administration would continue to work with Democrats “and other members of Congress who are serious about meaningful police reform.”

He said the White House would consult with the civil rights and law enforcement communities, as well as victims’ families, “to define a path forward, including through potential further executive actions I can take to advance our efforts to live up to the American ideal of equal justice under law.”

President Biden met with Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday to try to unify them behind two bills that are major components of his economic agenda.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden hosted a series of meetings on Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers, including party leaders, as he worked to smooth over deep divisions within his party about his multi-trillion-dollar domestic agenda.

In a series of Oval Office meetings that continued throughout the afternoon, Mr. Biden huddled with the two top Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and separately with nearly two dozen lawmakers from across the ideological range of his party.

The flurry of meetings came as both pieces of his economic agenda — a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a second, expansive $3.5 trillion social safety net package that supporters intend to push through with only Democratic votes — appear to be on a collision course, with moderate and liberal Democrats jockeying for leverage in a narrowly divided Congress.

In essence, Mr. Biden’s entire agenda faces a make-or-break moment, with an array of policy disagreements — over how large the domestic policy package should be and how to pay for and structure the programs it funds — standing in the way of action on any of it.

Speaking at her daily news conference, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that as the voting on the economic legislation neared, “there needs to be a deeper engagement by the president. That’s what you’re seeing happen today.”

Mr. Biden, she said, “sees his role as uniting and as working to bring together people over common agreement and on a path forward.”

The lawmakers invited to negotiate with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday included centrist Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Mike Thompson of California and Stephanie Murphy of Florida, as well as Representative Pramila Jayapal, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the liberal independent from Vermont who chairs the Budget Committee; Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee; and Patty Murray of Washington, a member of Democratic leadership, were also slated to head to the White House, as were Senators Jon Tester, from conservative-leaning Montana, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, centrists who have balked at the price tag of the social safety net plan, also planned to attend, according to their offices.

“We’ve got to do some negotiating moving forward,” Mr. Tester said on Wednesday. “I don’t think that’s a big secret.”

Liberal Democrats in the House remain adamant that they will withhold their votes for the infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year, until that chamber approves the $3.5 trillion package. Without the Liberals backing, Democrats are almost certain to fall short of the votes they need to win approval of the infrastructure measure in the House, where Ms. Pelosi has committed to bringing it up by Monday.

Returning to the Capitol after meeting with Mr. Biden, neither Ms. Pelosi nor Mr. Schumer shared many details about the discussions, although they projected confidence that Congress would be able to deliver the measures.

“We are on schedule — that’s all I will say,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters. “We’re calm, and everybody’s good and our work’s almost done.”

Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, said Wednesday morning that liberals could not negotiate a final package if more conservative Democrats would not present a counteroffer to the $3.5 trillion measure they have agreed to.

At the very least, he said, Democrats of all stripes need an ironclad, public agreement on a total spending number over 10 years and some core elements that would be in the package, such as an expanded, permanent child care tax credit, a per-child tax credit, and some aggressive climate change provisions, such as a clean energy standard.

Ms. Jayapal is preparing to make the case to Mr. Biden that linking the infrastructure bill to the social policy measure is not a matter of political horse-trading, but a substantive demand.

Liberal lawmakers, she argues, would not have agreed to a traditional infrastructure package funding roads, bridges and tunnels that will promote fossil fuel usage unless they knew a substantial climate change measure would also be enacted, to ensure the vehicles on those new highways would be electric, with a bolstered electricity infrastructure to support them.

For weeks, progressives have insisted that their support for the infrastructure package was contingent on the scope and success of the larger package, which carries most of their ambitions. Democrats plan to push through that bill under a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation that shields it from a filibuster, but because of their slim margins of control in the House and Senate, it can only pass if virtually every member of their party supports it.

With Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin warning that they will not back a package so large, and moderates in the House reluctant to vote on a measure that will not become law, Ms. Pelosi has said she will not proceed with infrastructure bill until it is clear what the Senate can pass.

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas, on Friday.Credit…Veronica G. Cardenas for The New York Times

House Democrats on Wednesday demanded that Biden administration officials meet with members of the oversight committee by Friday to face questions about the treatment of Haitian immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border after videos showed mounted Border Patrol agents corralling and menacing migrants, sparking widespread outrage.

“We were alarmed to see footage of the inhumane treatment of Haitian and other migrants in Del Rio, Texas, by Border Patrol agents on horseback,” Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the oversight committee, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Troy A. Miller, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The letter noted that images and videos showed border agents “charging at women, men, and children; menacing them with bridle reins; and making derogatory comments towards the migrants. Such abusive conduct is unacceptable and raises troubling questions about culture, training, and discipline within C.B.P.”

The letter asks for Customs and Border Protection officials to brief the committee by the end of the week about the conduct of the agents, what directions they received from supervisors and whether any disciplinary steps have been taken. The committee also is seeking information about actions that are being taken to protect migrants at the Del Rio border; the use of a health regulation known as Title 42 to expel migrants; and unredacted copies of any internal investigations into the incidents.

Five other Democratic representatives also signed the letter: Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the chairman of the civil rights subcommittee; Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; and members of the progressive group known as the “Squad” — Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

“Reports that thousands of migrants are being deported to Haiti despite turmoil in that country raise serious concerns about whether the federal government is failing to treat migrants — including those fleeing violence, political instability, and natural disasters — with respect and dignity and affording them a meaningful opportunity to seek asylum,” the lawmakers wrote.

Photographs and the widely circulated video footage this week of border agents’ interactions with Haitian migrants offer a view into the chaos unfolding in Del Rio, where large groups of Haitians crossed the Rio Grande and illegally entered the United States.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday afternoon that the administration was investigating the border agents’ actions and would finish its work by next week.

“As it relates to those photos and that horrific video, we’re not going to stand for that kind of inhumane treatment and obviously we want this investigation to be completed rapidly,” Ms. Psaki said.

Also on Wednesday, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met at the White House with Susan Rice, the president’s domestic policy adviser, as well as with the president’s director of public engagement, Cedric Richmond, and the vice president’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy.

“We were able to express our concern for people who look like us,” Representative Joyce Beatty, Democrat of Ohio and the caucus’s chairwoman, said afterward. “We had not seen the horses and the whips with any other population of people, so that to us goes to racism.”

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, also wrote a letter to Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, to “express serious concern regarding the ongoing repatriation of Haitian migrants and urge a humanitarian moratorium on these repatriations.”

The Biden administration has flown more than 1,000 people to Haiti since Sunday and plans to run seven flights a day starting Wednesday, with room for 135 migrants on each plane, according to an official familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategies.

The deportations are the latest example of the Biden administration, in its attempts to assert control over soaring numbers of border crossings, belying a campaign pledge to restore an asylum program for vulnerable families fleeing persecution and poverty.

Leaders of civil rights organizations, including the N.A.A.C.P., sent a letter to Mr. Biden on Tuesday condemning the treatment of the Haitians, and other allies of Mr. Biden denounced the actions, comparing the events at the border to those seen under his predecessor as president, Donald J. Trump.

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

John Podesta warned Democrats that failing to pass the Biden administration’s social policy plan could have dire consequences for the party. Credit…Kristoffer Tripplaar/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and an influential figure among Democrats in Washington, called on lawmakers in his party on Wednesday to pare back a proposed $3.5 trillion social policy plan that carries much of President Biden’s domestic agenda.

If they do not, he warned, they risk failure to pass the legislation — and the loss of their congressional majorities next year.

In a memo sent to every office of a Democratic member of Congress, Mr. Podesta, the founder and chair of the board of directors for the Center for American Progress, implored moderates and progressives in dire terms to bridge their differences on the bill. The party’s disputes include tax increases, individual spending programs and the total cost of a plan that would vastly expand the federal government’s role in education, child care, fighting climate change, supporting workers, alleviating poverty and more.

His message included a blunt call to progressives to accept a scaled-down price tag, in a bow to the party’s centrists.

“The political reality is clear, given Democrats have no margin for error in the Senate and a limited margin in the House,” he wrote. “We will not secure the full $3.5 trillion investment. It’s time for Democrats to unite in finding the path forward.”

But Mr. Podesta also had harsh words for moderates who have resisted the social safety net package, pushing instead for the passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that has passed the Senate, and is due for a House vote next week.

“You are either getting both bills or neither — and the prospect of neither is unconscionable,” he wrote. “It would signal a complete and utter failure of our democratic duty, and a reckless abdication of our responsibility. It would define our generation’s history and show that, when our time came, we failed, both for Americans now and in the years to come.”

A large group of Democratic lawmakers is heading to the White House on Wednesday to strategize with Mr. Biden about the fate of both bills, which is likely to be determined in the next few weeks. Mr. Podesta’s warnings reflect a growing fear among some Democrats on and off Capitol Hill that the entire effort could collapse, leaving the party with little to run on in midterm elections and no chance for years to enact ambitious legislation.

“The historical trend makes it clear that Democrats will face severe headwinds next November,” Mr. Podesta wrote, “but nothing will guarantee a political reckoning faster than if the Democrats fail to pass anything.”

Mr. Podesta singled out the bill’s climate provisions, in particular, as critical for a moment when hurricanes and wildfires have slammed people across the nation and laid bare the realities of a warming planet.

“On the climate crisis in particular, the screen is blinking ‘code red,'” he wrote. “There is no time. There is no next time.”

Haitians deported from the United States arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Monday.Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Even as more than 1,000 Haitian migrants were deported between Sunday and Tuesday, thousands of others are being allowed into the United States, sometimes to request asylum — and are being released with instructions to report to immigration officials at a future date.

Faced with an unusually high number of Haitians who began crossing the border into Del Rio, Texas, late last week, the Biden administration responded with high-profile repatriation flights, which officials hope will deter others from making the trip here. There are five flights planned for Wednesday, according to an official familiar with the plans, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and thus spoke on condition of anonymity.

The sudden appearance of thousands of Haitian migrants overwhelmed Border Patrol agents in Del Rio last week. At one point, some 15,000 crammed under and around a bridge in squalid conditions while they waited to be briefly interviewed by border officials. To relieve the overcrowding, the administration has flown many of the migrants to less crowded spots on the southern border; most are being released from Border Patrol custody with a “Notice to Appear” order, which formally enters them into the immigration court system for a deportation hearing — often years away.

The response to the latest sharp increase in migrants crossing the border illegally has appeared chaotic and raised questions about the administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

The Homeland Security Department is investigating possible mistreatment of some migrants, an inquiry the secretary told lawmakers on Wednesday would be done “in days, not weeks.”

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with the secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, on Tuesday. Ms. Harris’s spokeswoman, Symone Sanders, said the vice president told Mr. Mayorkas about “the need of all C.B.P. agents to treat people with dignity, humanely and consistent with our laws and our values,” referring to Customs and Border Protection.

And a new security concern emerged on Tuesday when some Haitian migrants on a deportation flight “caused two separate disruptions on the tarmac” when they deplaned in Port-au-Prince, said Marsha Espinosa, spokeswoman for the Homeland Security Department. She said three Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and an unspecified number of members of the flight crew suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

The Biden administration is using an emergency rule that the Trump administration put in place at the beginning of the pandemic to deport the migrants, who are being flown back to Haiti. The administration has sought to continue the rule — issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which critics say is less about preventing the spread of Covid-19 and more about keeping migrants out of the country. For a range of reasons, the rule is not always consistently enforced across the border, which immigration advocates have said is leading to confusion among migrants about trying to enter the United States.

Eduardo Maia Silva, a Homeland Security spokesman, said the migrants who are not deported under the public health rule and do not have a legal reason to stay, “are placed in expedited or full removal proceedings.”

He said, “Individuals who are not immediately repatriated are either placed in ‘Alternatives to Detention,’ detained in an ICE facility, or released with a legal document,” referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Neither the Homeland Security Department nor Customs and Border Protection answered a question on Wednesday about how many of the migrants arriving in Del Rio are being allowed into the country and how many are being deported.

One woman, Joselyne Simeus, a native Haitian who had been living in Chile for seven years, was among the migrants who waded across the Rio Grande last week and crossed illegally into the country with her 5-year-old son, joining the thousands waiting under the bridge. She claimed asylum and called herself “lucky,” because she and her son were not forced to immediately return to Haiti but instead planned to travel to Florida to stay with family.

The Haitian government has asked the United States for a deportation moratorium out of concerns that the country, battered from natural disasters and political upheaval, cannot handle the number of Haitians being repatriated.

Edgar Sandoval contributed reporting from Del Rio, Texas.

The wreckage from a U.S. missile strike that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in Kabul in August.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

U.S. military officials have insisted since the last American troops withdrew from Afghanistan last month that they would be able to detect and confront Islamic State or Qaeda threats in the country from afar.

But an errant drone strike that killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in Kabul on Aug. 29 calls into question the reliability of the intelligence that will be used to conduct the operations.

Thirty-six hours before the strike, intelligence analysts and drone operators at a base in Qatar were sifting through more than 60 pieces of intelligence — some conflicting, some mutually reinforcing — related to an imminent ISIS attack, according to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of the military’s Central Command.

The group, called the Over-the-Horizon Strike Cell, was created in early July to track and disrupt plots in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda or the Islamic State that threatened the U.S. After the sudden Taliban takeover of the country, the cell began focusing on ISIS threats against the thousands of American troops at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul who were helping Afghans flee the country.

Just before 9 a.m., Zemari Ahmadi, a longtime worker for a U.S. aid group, pulled his white 1996 Toyota Corolla in front of a house the Americans were watching. Two men got out of the car, met with another man at the house, took a bag from him and returned to the car. Mr. Ahmadi drove off.

Eight hours later, a Hellfire missile slammed into the sedan, killing Mr. Ahmadi and nine other people in what American officials now acknowledge was a tragic case of mistaken identity.

“Clearly our intelligence was wrong on this particular white Toyota Corolla,” General McKenzie told reporters on Friday. “We thought this was a good lead. We were wrong.”

Video

Video player loading
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said there would be a review of the central bank’s ethics rules in response to concerns over trades made by two officials last year amid the Fed’s pandemic rescue efforts.CreditCredit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said on Wednesday that the central bank’s rules governing the types of assets that Fed officials can invest in would need to be updated, noting that the rules are “clearly seen as not adequate to the task of really sustaining the public’s trust in us.”

His comments, at a news conference after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting, addressed concerns about securities trading that two of Mr. Powell’s colleagues — Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Eric Rosengren, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston — engaged in last year, when the Fed was carrying out a sweeping market rescue in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will make changes,” Mr. Powell said, adding that “no one is happy.”

“This is an important moment for the Fed,” he said, “and I am determined that we will rise to the moment. We need to do better, and we will.”

According to a Dallas Fed spokesperson, along with disclosures from the Boston Fed, the notable trades did not happen in late March or April, when the central bank was particularly active in markets. Yet even the possibility that Fed policymakers could make financial decisions informed by their privileged knowledge of central bank deliberations has drawn outrage and calls for changes to the rules.

“To even have to ask the question whether these critically important Fed guardians of the economy are profiteering off their official knowledge, expertise and activity is devastating to the public confidence,” said Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who was an ethics adviser to former President Barack Obama.

Mr. Powell has asked the Fed’s staff to review ethics rules around what senior officials are allowed to invest in and buy or sell, a spokesperson for the central bank said last week. And Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Rosengren have pledged to sell their individual security holdings and to invest in broad indexes and cash instead.

But outside groups are calling for more, saying those changes are an inadequate response to the deficiencies the episode laid bare.

The trading by the officials “reveals how grossly deficient their ethical standards and the code of conduct are,” Dennis Kelleher, president and chief executive at Better Markets, wrote in a letter to Mr. Powell this week, calling for external investigations of what happened. “This requires you to take immediate, concrete and meaningful action, not just P.R. pronouncements of internal investigations and an internal review of the ethics code.”

Mr. Kaplan bought and sold millions of dollars in individual stocks and invested in stock futures, which can allow investors to make bets on whether the market will go up or down, according to his 2020 financial disclosures. Mr. Rosengren traded in financial products tied to real estate, during a year in which he regularly warned the public about risks to that sector. Both said in statements that their investments had complied with Fed ethics rules.

A Fed spokesperson said the Fed’s ethics rules were consistent with what most government agencies followed and in some cases more stringent. But given the special role the Fed plays in finance, many have questioned whether it should have stricter requirements.

Fed officials tend to be sophisticated economists and bankers themselves, and their comments can have an outsize impact on financial markets. The central bank has also taken on an increasingly expansive role: Last year, it rescued or aided the short-term corporate debt market, the long-term corporate debt market, the municipal bond market and money market mutual funds.

That raises questions about what sort of securities its officials should be allowed to own. Mr. Powell, for instance, was heavily invested in index funds and municipal debt last year, based on his own disclosures. His municipal bond holdings had not been widely criticized in years past, but they have received negative attention in recent days because the Fed helped that market for the first time last year.

Mr. Powell said he had cleared all of his holdings with the Fed’s ethics officials.

“Munis were always thought be a safe place for a Fed official to invest,” Mr. Powell said, noting that the idea was that the Fed would never buy munis. He added that the Office of Government Ethics had checked his muni holdings and said he did not have a conflict.

All this poses a conundrum for the Fed, which must weigh what its officials can reasonably invest in, given that its actions influence everything from home prices to the broad stock market.

While there are examples of very high-level officials in government who have put their savings into blind trusts — in which independent money managers buy and sell securities without communicating with the beneficiary about the details of the transactions — those are typically discouraged by the Office of Government Ethics, which calls them “highly restrictive and usually burdensome.” Ethicists tend to instead recommend divesting from individual asset holdings and investing in mutual funds or other broad-based funds.

Many Fed officials, but clearly not all, already do that.

“The system is foolish in the leeway that it gives,” said Mr. Eisen, the former ethics adviser. “The trust system is a recipe for eventual scandal.”

Video

transcript

bars

0:00/1:32

-0:00

transcript

Biden Presses Global Partners to Amplify Pandemic Response

President Biden called for a heightened, unified global response to the pandemic as he convened a virtual Covid-19 summit in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

Nothing is more urgent than all of us working together to defeat Covid-19, and that world is going to be much better prepared for future pandemics — we have to do both. This summit is about supercharging our efforts in three key areas: vaccinating the world by dramatically ramping up vaccine production, donations, delivery and administering the vaccine, which is a logistical — it’s a logistical challenge. Addressing the oxygen crisis in many hospitals around the world, making other treatments more accessible and increasing the availability of public health tools like masks and tests, and building back better so that our global health security infrastructure is more resilient than it is today. We’ve all suffered. The United States has lost more than 670,000 of our fellow Americans, worldwide, the death toll is above 4.5 million people — 4.5 million people. And this is a global tragedy, and we’re not going to solve this crisis with half measures or middle of the road ambitions. We need to go big and we need to do our part, governments, the private sector, civil society leaders, philanthropists. This is an all hands on deck crisis. And the good news is we know how to beat this pandemic — Vaccines, public health measures and collective action.

Video player loading
President Biden called for a heightened, unified global response to the pandemic as he convened a virtual Covid-19 summit in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.CreditCredit…Dedi Sinuhaji/EPA, via Shutterstock

Declaring “we need to go big,” President Biden on Wednesday called on other world leaders, pharmaceutical executives, philanthropists and civil society organizations to band together to forge a global consensus around a plan to fight the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking at the opening of a virtual Covid-19 summit he is convening in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, Mr. Biden cited two especially urgent challenges: vaccinating the world against Covid-19, and solving a global oxygen crisis, which is leading to unnecessary deaths among Covid-19 patients who might survive if oxygen were available.

“We’re not going to solve this crisis with half measures or middle of the road ambitions — we need to go big,” the president said, adding, “It’s an all hands on deck crisis.”

But it may be hard to turn Mr. Biden’s words into reality. Less than 10 percent of the population of poor nations — and less than 4 percent of the African population — has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Worldwide, 79 percent of shots that have been administered have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Covax, the W.H.O.-backed international vaccine initiative, is behind schedule in delivering shots to the low- and middle-income nations that need them the most.

Around the world, more than 4.5 million people have died of Covid-19 — a “global tragedy,” Mr. Biden said. The president also announced a new partnership with the European Union aimed at expanding access to vaccines. And Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the United States would contribute $250 million to start a new global fund that the administration hopes will raise $10 billion to fight future pandemics.

Still, some activists say that Mr. Biden’s new plan for donating doses is not fast enough to meet the World Health Organization’s targets for raising vaccine coverage in poorer nations. Of the 1.1 billion doses that the United States has committed to donating, only 300 million are expected to be shipped this year.

And critics of the administration had low expectations for the gathering.

“This summit deserves to be, needs to be, a debate of historic dimensions,” Peter Maybarduk, access to medicines director for Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy organization, which has been urging the administration to adopt a $25 billion plan to scale up vaccine manufacturing around the world.

“But it won’t be that kind of debate,” he added, adding that he thought the hosts would unlikely to be significantly challenged by less powerful governments and vulnerable people. “It will not produce the transformative response needed to end the pandemic,” he said.

The summit began with Mr. Biden and other world leaders, including Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, gathering virtually for a small panel discussion entitled “Call the World to Account and Vaccinate the World,” moderated by Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Mr. Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations. Participants included other presidents and prime ministers, including President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, according to an agenda obtained by The New York Times.

Earlier Wednesday, Pfizer-BioNTech announced that it had struck a deal with the Biden administration to sell the United States an additional 500 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, to be donated to nations that need them.

Mr. Biden heralded the deal in his opening remarks, saying it would bring to 1.1 billion the total number of doses his administration has purchased for donation. “Put another way, for every one shot we’ve administered to pay in America, we have now committed to do three shots to the rest of the world,” he said.

Drug company executives, philanthropists and leaders of nonprofit organizations have also been invited to the summit, which administration officials say is the largest gathering of heads of state to date to address the global pandemic.

Mr. Biden has been under intense pressure from global health experts to do more to address the vaccine shortage — and in particular expand manufacturing around the world. Mr. Biden said the U.S. is doing so, through a partnership with India, Japan and Australia that, he said, “is on track to produce at least 1 billion vaccine doses in India to boost the global supply by the end of 2022.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the W.H.O., delivered remarks to the global Covid-19 summit on Wednesday that “high-income countries have pledged more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15 percent of those doses have materialized” for lower-income countries.

“We need an ironclad global commitment today to support the vaccination of at least 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70 percent by mid-2022,” Dr. Tedros said. “As the president said, we can do this.”

Asked on Wednesday about criticism of the United States moving to provide booster doses to some already inoculated people while much of the world lacks vaccines, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, reiterated the administration’s view that “we can do both, and it’s a false choice.”

Ms. Psaki said the United States had already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other nation combined, and would continue to share doses and scale manufacturing abroad.

“But we also need the world to do more, especially developed countries” to battle the pandemic, Ms. Psaki said.

Drug manufacturers are also under pressure to do more. The Biden administration has urged both Pfizer and Moderna to enter into joint ventures where they would license their technology to contract manufacturers with the aim of providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, according to a senior administration official.

Those talks led to the Pfizer donation, but the talks with Moderna have not borne fruit, the official said.

At a briefing held by Physicians for Human Rights earlier this week, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, sounded a note of urgency and issued a plea for nations to work together to distribute vaccines in a coordinated — and equitable — fashion. She also urged countries to share their excess supplies.

“A country by country approach, a nationalistic approach, is not going to get us out of this pandemic,” she said. “And that’s where we are today.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

Administering Pfizer- BioNTech coronavirus vaccines in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in July.Credit…Chamila Karunarathne/EPA, via Shutterstock

When President Biden announced in June that the United States would buy 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine doses for poorer nations, there was a gaping hole in his plan: To fund it, the administration quietly diverted hundreds of millions of dollars that had already been promised to countries for helping to get shots into people’s arms.

Mr. Biden did not make the same mistake a second time.

His announcement on Wednesday that the United States was donating an additional 500 million Pfizer doses came paired with a promise of an additional $750 million for vaccine distribution, roughly half of it through a nonprofit involved in global vaccinations. That reflected a growing awareness on the part of global leaders that turning vaccines into actual vaccinations represents one of the most significant challenges of this phase of the pandemic.

Even so, the Biden administration’s schedule for shipping the newly announced Pfizer doses frustrated activists: Of the 1.1 billion doses that the United States has committed to donations, only 300 million are expected to be shipped this year. The longer the virus circulates around the world, the more dangerous it can become, even for vaccinated people in wealthy countries, scientists have warned.

“Purchasing doses for donation sometime next year is helpful, but it does not meaningfully expand the global supply, and it is not justice,” said Peter Maybarduk, the director of the Access to Medicines program at Public Citizen, an advocacy organization.

Some experts pleaded for more aggressive action by Mr. Biden to pressure American vaccine makers to share their formulas with nations that desperately need more shots.

“Where is the monthly calendar of what each wealthy country is going to deliver?” said Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign. She added, “Where are the announcements about meeting the calls of regions and middle-income countries that are begging to be self-sufficient?”

It was not immediately clear how the administration was planning to allocate the new money for vaccine distributions. Some countries have been struggling to train and pay vaccinators and to transport doses. Pfizer doses present especially steep challenges: They must be stored at ultralow temperatures, requiring the installation of freezers and, in many cases, backup generators.

Early this year, supply shortages represented the most pressing problem for global vaccinations. Rich nations had raced to secure doses while slow-walking pledges of money and supplies to Covax, the United Nations-backed program to immunize the world.

But as those manufacturing difficulties have eased, different problems emerged. One was blatant inequality: More than 5.9 billion shots have been given globally, but overwhelmingly in wealthier nations. Another was that poorer countries had been left without the money needed to move shots from airport tarmacs into people’s arms.

Although the Biden administration’s pledges have outpaced those of most Western nations, analysts said other wealthy countries were setting an extraordinarily low bar.

And even as countries have promised to donate more doses, they have been slow to follow through, with the World Health Organization saying that only 15 percent of promised donations have been delivered. The W.H.O. has set a target of vaccinating 40 percent of every country’s population this year, requiring wealthy nations to share doses significantly more quickly.

There remains considerable excess supply: Wealthy nations will have 1 billion more vaccines than they need by the end of 2021, even if they administer booster shots, according to Airfinity, a science analytics company.

Global health officials have urged wealthy nations to let go of those supplies before they expire. Some countries have donated vaccines so close to their expiration dates, and in such small quantities, that poorer countries have struggled to use them.

Some 11 billion doses are needed globally, and activists said on Wednesday that the wealthy world’s response remained far too piecemeal. The new Pfizer doses purchased by the U.S. will be shipped through Covax starting in January.

Vice President Kamala Harris announced that the United States would contribute $250 million to start a new global fund that the administration hopes will raise $10 billion to fight future pandemics.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

While President Biden gathered with heads of state for a Covid-19 summit, Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday announced that the United States will contribute at least $250 million to a new global health security fund that the administration hopes will raise $10 billion to fight future pandemics.

Declaring the coronavirus pandemic a “stark warning” for an increasingly interconnected world, Ms. Harris called for international unity to address a lack of funding for pandemic preparedness highlighted by the flaws in the global response to Covid-19. The collective goal of $10 billion would be spent on a range of issues, like disease surveillance, vaccine development and health care worker support, in order to counter future biological threats.

“We need to act so that our world will be ready to respond before and not after the next pandemic emerges,” Ms. Harris said, adding that the Biden administration has asked Congress for an additional $850 million for the new fund.

Perhaps recognizing the political challenges that obtaining such funding would face from U.S. lawmakers, Ms. Harris said the administration supports the creation of a “global health threats council” to ensure transparency and accountability for all nations that commit to financing the fund.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration and U.S. drug companies are under growing pressure to address the global Covid-19 vaccine shortage. As part of the administration’s efforts, Mr. Biden also announced on Wednesday a new partnership with the European Union aimed at expanding access to vaccines.

In a statement detailing a joint strategy with the United States to have 70 percent of the global population vaccinated by next September, the European Union said it would donate 500 million coronavirus vaccine doses and ramp up coordination efforts with its American counterparts to deliver and administer them. The European Union has pledged to donate 200 million doses by the end of 2021, but its member countries had only donated 21 million doses as of early September, according to official figures.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm, has named global vaccination the bloc’s most urgent priority for the year ahead: “The scale of injustice and the level of urgency are obvious,” Ms. von der Leyen said in a speech on the state of the union last week.

Leave a Reply