Kirby on Putin-Xi hug: ‘That’s nice for them’

White House national security adviser John Kirby weighed in on footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping embracing Friday in Beijing. 

“That’s nice for them,” Kirby told reporters when asked for a reaction to the hug between the two leaders. 

Kirby said it’s “no surprise” that Xi and Putin “continue to try to develop this burgeoning relationship,” but noted that the pair haven’t worked together long, and that officials in both governments “aren’t necessarily all that trustful” of each other. 

“What they have in common is a desire to challenge the international rules-based order, challenge the network of alliances and partnerships that the United States enjoys,” Kirby said, adding “and to try to look for ways to bolster each other’s national security interests as well.”

Xi welcomed Putin at a summit this week in China amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine — and as efforts to expand economic and military ties between Moscow and Beijing have exacerbated tensions with the West.

Putin said his talks with Xi were “substantive” as he concluded the two-day trip, according to The Associated Press. China has claimed a neutral stance in Moscow’s war with Ukraine, but has continued to support Russia with nonlethal assistance.

Kirby said Friday that the U.S. wasn’t “necessarily surprised” by the Putin-Xi meeting, but that the administration was nonetheless “concerned” and “watching closely” as the two leaders’ relationship develops. 

“I’m not good at talking about personal human bodily affection one way or the other, so I think I’ll leave it to these two gents to talk about why they thought it was good to hug one another,” Kirby said when pressed about the hug headlines. 

“I’ll just tell you that we take seriously the challenges that both countries represent,” he added. “And we take seriously this burgeoning relationship between the two.”

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Top Biden aide to travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel this weekend

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, will travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend amid rising international tensions around the Israel-Hamas war, the administration confirmed on Friday.

Sullivan will meet in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday, to talk about the war in Gaza and efforts to achieve peace in the region, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby told reporters. 

Sullivan will travel Sunday to meet with senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to discuss the war and “ongoing negotiations” to release hostages, as well as efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in the region. 

The announcement of Sullivan’s trip comes as Biden faces widespread frustration with the administration’s handling of the war in Gaza — from within his own party and from across the aisle. The House on Thursday approved a bill to reverse Biden’s pause on some weapons shipments to Israel in a slight against the president’s approach.

Sullivan postponed a planned trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this year due to a cracked rib. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the crown prince in March, where he “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza and to the establishment of a future Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel.”

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Biden marks 70 years since Brown v. Board of Education: ‘A prayer was answered’

President Biden on Friday commemorated the 70th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in public schools. 

“Seventy years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, a prayer was answered in the long struggle for freedom,” said Biden, speaking from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. 

He reflected on meeting with members of the Little Rock Nine on Thursday and how what they endured in 1957 wasn’t all that long ago, pointing out there is still room for progress.  

“We have a whole group of people out there trying to rewrite history, trying to erase history,” Biden said. 

Since 2021, at least 18 states have imposed bans or restrictions on teaching topics of race and gender, according to a report  by Education Week.

During the 2022-23 school year, 153 districts across 33 states banned books, according to a report by PEN America, many of which were written by authors of color and delve into topics including race and racism.

The Biden-Harris administration this week announced new steps toward achieving educational equity, including investing $20 million in new awards for school districts in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas to establish magnet programs. 

The administration is also launching an interagency process to preserve African American history. 

“The Brown decision proves a simple idea: We learn better when we learn together,” Biden said.

After he spoke, members of the Little Rock Nine addressed the crowd with Sheryl Ralph Lee. 

They shared what it was like to attend school, escorted by the U.S. National Guard, as mobs of white demonstrators screamed epithets and hung effigies as they walked past. 

“They intended to hurt us,” said Elizabeth Eckford. 

Racism, added Minniejean Brown Trickey, is designed to make the marginalized hurt. But because they persevered, she said, things were able to change.

“Kids can make presidents act,” said Brown Trickey. “In the end, it was our persistence that made it possible for everyone to have to advocate on our behalf.”

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CDC puts early end to free COVID vaccines for uninsured

A federal program providing free COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured and underinsured adults is shutting down this summer, before the fall rollout of updated vaccines to fight against the latest variants. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its Bridge Access Program will end in August because of a lack of funding. The program has provided over 1.4 million free COVID-19 vaccines since it launched in September 2023 at a cost of more than $1 billion. 

The Bridge Access Program was meant to be temporary, but it was originally scheduled to end in December 2024.  

COVID-19 vaccines were available on the commercial marketplace for the first time last fall, as the federal government stopped distributing them once the public health emergency ended.  

Most private insurance companies cover the shot for free, but there are 25-30 million adults without health insurance and additional adults whose insurance does not cover all COVID-19 vaccine costs. The Bridge program allowed CDC to purchase the vaccines from the manufacturers and distribute them to state and local health departments as well as pharmacies, where they’d be made available for the uninsured.

The FY 2024 government funding bill rescinded $4.3 billion in COVID-19 funding that was never obligated, and a CDC spokesman indicated the agency had been using some of it to run the Bridge program.  

“Due to Congressional rescissions of COVID-19 funds in the FY 2024 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, difficult decisions had to be made about the future of CDC activities supported by those funds,” David Daigle told The Hill in an email. 

As a potential replacement, the CDC is advocating for a Vaccines for Adults proposal that was included in President Biden’s FY 2025 budget request. If enacted, it would give uninsured adults free access to recommended vaccines, similar to the successful Vaccines for Children program. The White House requested $25 billion over a decade to fund it.  

But even if the program is included, the appropriations process won’t be complete in time for a fall vaccine rollout.  

Until August, people can find where to locate a free COVID-19 Bridge vaccine at  

“After August, there may be a small amount of free vaccine available through health department immunization programs, but supply would be very limited.  We don’t yet know if the manufacturers will have patient assistance programs,” Daigle said.  

The Food and Drug Administration is meeting in early June to discuss which new COVID-19 variants the fall vaccines will target.  

But vaccination rates remain low. According to the latest federal estimates from the beginning of May, just 22.5 percent of adults reported received a 2023-24 COVID-19 vaccine since they began rolling out in mid-September 2023. 

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