In response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the United States sanctioned many of the country’s billionaire oligarchs — but there’s a scandal brewing on who was (and wasn’t) targeted.
One that wasn’t targeted by U.S. sanctions, Elena Baturina, was allegedly a former business partner of First Son Hunter Biden.
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President Joe Biden wouldn’t answer why she was excluded from the United States sanctions after reportedly giving $3.5 million in “consultancy agreement” fees to a firm co-founded by Hunter in 2014. Joe Biden was the vice president at that time.
According to the New York Post article in April, “Baturina, who’s worth an estimated $1.4 billion, has also gone unsanctioned, which last week led House Republicans to demand that Treasury Department Janet Yellen say whether Russia’s second-richest woman was ‘being treated differently’ because of her alleged ties to the first son.”
After the bloody invasion of Ukraine, the United Kingdom, a close U.S. ally, sanctioned Baturina.
Was the president confused when he was asked the question?
Or did he simply not want to answer?
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Take a look at the video and decide for yourself —
The scandal is just the latest headache in a series of crises for the Biden administration.
The president admitted on Thursday that the American people are “really, really down” after his tumultuous two years in office with the coronavirus pandemic, an economy poised for a slowdown, and gasoline prices that are slamming family budgets.
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Speaking to The Associated Press in a 30-minute Oval Office interview, the president reportedly bristled at claims by Republican lawmakers that last year’s COVID-19 aid plan was fully to blame for inflation reaching a 40-year high, calling that argument “bizarre.”
As for the overall American mindset, Biden said, “People are really, really down.”
“Their need for mental health in America has skyrocketed because people have seen everything upset,” Biden said. “Everything they’ve counted on upset. But most of it’s the consequence of what happened, what happened as a consequence of the, the COVID crisis.”
That pessimism has carried over into the economy as record prices at the pump and persistent inflation have jeopardized Democrats’ ability to hold on to the House and Senate in the midterm elections. Biden addressed the warnings by economists that fighting inflation could tip the United States into recession.
“First of all, it’s not inevitable,” he said. “Secondly, we’re in a stronger position than any nation in the world to overcome this inflation.”
As for the causes of inflation, Biden flashed some defensiveness on that count. “If it’s my fault, why is it the case in every other major industrial country in the world that inflation is higher? You ask yourself that? I’m not being a wise guy,” he said.
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In fact, inflation in the U.S. has outpaced inflation in peer countries, like Canada. In April, U.S. inflation outpaced Eurozone inflation by 0.9 percent, despite the Eurozone’s proximity to the Russo-Ukrainian War.
The president said he saw a reason for optimism with the 3.6% unemployment rate and America’s relative strength in the world.
But restoring confidence so far has eluded Biden, whose approval ratings have been in steady decline as he has lost support among Democrats and has little evidence to show that he could restore a sense of bipartisan normalcy to Washington.
Biden’s Oval Office is filled with the portraits of presidents who faced crises that have imperiled the country, and the president acknowledged there were parallels to his own situation. A picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hangs over his fireplace, a place of prominence because the historian Jon Meacham told Biden that no president had come into office with the economy in such dire circumstances. There is also a painting of Abraham Lincoln, who became president with a nation brutally divided and on the verge of the Civil War.
Yet Biden’s remedy is not that different from the diagnosis made by former President Jimmy Carter in 1979, when the U.S. economy was crippled by stagflation. Carter said then the U.S. was suffering from a “crisis of confidence” and “the erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”
The president said he wants to endow the U.S. with more verve, fortitude, and courage.
“Be confident,” Biden said. “Because I am confident. We’re better positioned than any country in the world to own the second quarter of the 21st century.”
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Biden’s bleak assessment of the national psyche comes as voters have soured on his job performance and the direction of the country. Only 39% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s performance as president, according to a May poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Research, dipping from already negative ratings a month earlier.
Overall, only about 2 in 10 adults said the U.S. is heading in the right direction or that the economy is good, both down from about 3 in 10 in April. Those drops were concentrated among Democrats, with just 33% within the president’s party saying the country is headed in the right direction.
Consumer prices have jumped 8.6% over the past year, the steepest rise in more than 40 years, although ore inflation — which excludes volatile prices for goods like food and energy — has been decelerating for three months. Republican lawmakers have said that Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package from last year kick-started a spiral of price increases.
The president said there was “zero evidence” for that claim, noting that other countries have endured higher prices as economies reopened and people became vaccinated. Still, Biden acknowledged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s contention that the spending had a limited inflationary effect.
“You could argue whether it had a marginal, a minor impact on inflation,” he said. “I don’t think it did. And most economists do not think it did. But the idea that it caused inflation is bizarre.”
Still, high inflation has created a conundrum for Biden. He prioritized bringing back millions of jobs and has seen the unemployment rate return to close to pre-pandemic levels. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday increased its benchmark interest rate, in hopes of slowing the economy and pulling inflation down to its target rate of 2%.
The tightening of Fed policy has caused financial markets to slump and led many economists to warn of a potential recession next year. The president encouraged Americans to stay patient.
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“They shouldn’t believe a warning,” he said. “They should just say: ‘Let’s see. Let’s see which is correct.’”
The president is still trying to steer his domestic agenda through Congress, after an earlier iteration last year failed to clear a 50-50 Senate. Biden said, “I believe I have the votes” to lower prescription drug prices, reduce families’ utility bills with tax incentives and place a 15% minimum tax on corporations. He said his plans would lower expenses for many Americans, though the measure would be scaled back from earlier intentions for an expanded child tax credit, universal pre-kindergarten, and other programs.
“I’m going to be able to get, God willing, the ability to pay for prescription drugs,” Biden said. “There’s more than one way to bring down the cost for working folks.”
And then, in acknowledgment of the political restraints he faces, Biden admitted, “I can’t get it all done.”
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article
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