5 topics to watch for during Biden’s news briefing Wednesday


(NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden is scheduled to give his first news conference of the year Wednesday, when he could address concerns surrounding the pandemic, voting rights and building tension between Russia and Ukraine.

In preparation for the president’s briefing, here are five topics that are dominating the news and which Biden could touch on:

Biden’s news conference can be seen here

Website for free COVID-19 tests

Biden’s briefing lands on the same day as the official launch of COVIDTests.gov — the website providing tests at no cost to Americans.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the website was live Tuesday as a beta version. The federal website did begin accepting orders as part of the White House’s response to nationwide testing shortages. Supplies will be limited to four free tests per home.

The limited web orders will be applied to each residential address and will apply to the first tranche of 500 million tests, according to the White House.

The launch of any website carries some risks, officials said. Memories of the disastrous rollout during the Obama administration of Healthcare.gov are still fresh — but officials are well-positioned to handle the expected demand for tests, they said.

Voting rights filibuster

Senators Tuesday were set to begin their debate on voting legislation that has been heavily pushed by Democrats — and also heavily criticized by Republicans.

Included in the bills are measures that would allow same-day voting registration in every state; establish a minimum 15 days of early voting; guarantee every state would allow voting by mail and make Election Day a federal holiday.

The legislation was passed by the House, but stalled in the Senate. Democrats lack the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.

Democrats have said the legislation is an important safeguard to protect the right to vote. Republicans, however, argue that the bills are a federal takeover of state elections.

Two Senate Democrats — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have been criticized for their refusal to change the filibuster to allow action on voting rights legislation. Both senators say preserving the Senate filibuster is important for fostering bipartisanship.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said that if Republicans filibuster and block the voting rights legislation, he will introduce a bill to change the filibuster. It is still unclear if this would mean killing the filibuster altogether or reforming it to make an exception for voting rights.

Because of the nature of the legislation, the debate was expected to carry over into Wednesday, with a possible vote then.

Building Russia and Ukraine tension

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He’s also expected to make a stop in Berlin and then meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.

The trip aims to show U.S. support for Ukraine and impress on Russia the need for de-escalation as tension continues to build.

Psaki said Tuesday that Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at “any point.”

“What secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward. It is the choice of President Putin and the Russians to make whether they are going to suffer severe economic consequences or not,” Psaki said at White House news briefing Tuesday.

Delayed 5G rollouts

AT&T and Verizon announced Tuesday that they will delay launching a new wireless service near key airports after the nation’s largest airlines said the service would interfere with aircraft technology and cause massive flight disruptions.

The decision from the telecommunication companies arrived as the Biden administration tried to broker a settlement between the telecom companies and the airlines over a rollout of new 5G service, scheduled for Wednesday.

“Expanding 5G and promoting competition in internet service are critical priorities of mine, and tomorrow will be a massive step in the right direction,” Biden said in a statement that he issued Tuesday. “My team has been engaging non-stop with the wireless carriers, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely co-exist – and, at my direction, they will continue to do so until we close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports.”

Beijing Winter Olympics

The U.S. is persisting with its diplomatic protest of February’s Beijing Winter Olympics in objection to Chinese human rights abuses.

Last month, Psaki said that U.S. athletes will continue to compete and will “have our full support” but added “we will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games.”

The U.K. and Australia announced similar action, and China has vowed to react with “firm countermeasures.”

Olympic organizers said Monday that only “selected” spectators will be permitted at the event, because of the pandemic. Beijing had already announced that no fans from outside the country would be permitted at the events, and had not offered tickets to the general public.

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