U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana is one of at least two Democrats who are expected to join every Senate Republican in a vote Wednesday night opposing President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate on private employers.
In a written statement late Tuesday, Tester said that he’s heard from concerned constituents in his state about that pending requirement — which would direct employers with at least 100 employees to either ensure their workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 or that they undergo weekly testing.
“Over the past few months, I’ve repeatedly heard concerns from Montana’s small business and community leaders about the negative effect the private business vaccine mandate will have on their bottom lines and our state’s economy,” Tester said. “That’s why I intend to join a bipartisan majority of my colleagues in defending Montana jobs and small businesses against these burdensome regulations.”
Tester added that he “strongly” urges all eligible Montanans to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The support from Tester and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Virginia, is expected to give Senate Republicans enough votes to pass the resolution seeking to undo Biden’s vaccine mandate, which is set to kick in Jan. 4.
The proposal would then go to the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, where all 212 Republican legislators have cosponsored a related resolution from Pennsylvania Rep. Fred Keller to nullify the vaccine mandate.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden will veto the resolution if it reaches his desk.
Senate Republicans are challenging the vaccine requirement under the Congressional Review Act, which can be used by Congress to overturn certain federal agency regulations. The vote under that act cannot be filibustered, so only a simple majority is needed.
The president’s proposed vaccine requirements also have faced a slew of challenges in the courts.
A related mandate requiring millions of health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was blocked by a federal judge in Louisiana as a lawsuit moves forward. A federal judge in Georgia also temporarily blocked across the nation a mandate set to go into effect for federal contractors next month.
The Biden administration released a statement Tuesday evening saying the president “strongly opposes” the Senate resolution to undo his vaccine requirement.
“At a time when COVID is on the rise, a new variant is on the loose, and more Americans are choosing to be vaccinated, it makes no sense for Congress to reverse this much-needed protection of our workforce,” according to the administration policy statement. “It puts our recovery in danger, and a vote for this resolution risks a return to shutdowns, layoffs, and closures that result from allowing COVID to spread more easily in the workplace.”
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Malik Mutaliyev walks by an abandoned amusement park in wintry Baikonur, a secretive town in Kazakhstan's inhospitable steppe that appeared alongside the eponymous Baikonur Cosmodrome where the Soviet Union's space program rose to glory.
"Our town has lived through a lot: Perestroika, the fall of the Soviet Union, electricity shortages. We've been through it all," says the 67-year-old former chief architect of Baikonur.
The settlement located in the desolate north of Kazakhstan in Central Asia has gone by many names: Site No. 10, Leninsk -- in honour of the Soviet revolutionary Vladimir Lenin -- and now Baikonur.
It was here nevertheless and from the cosmodrome some 30 kilometers (18 miles) away that the first satellite launched into space -- Sputnik in 1957 -- and both the first man sent into orbit, Yuri Gagarin, and later the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, were dispatched from this spot.
Three decades after the Soviet collapse, Baikonur remains a key facility, specifically for manned flights to the International Space Station (ISS). On Wednesday, two Japanese space tourists launched to the ISS from Baikonur.
"All this is the achievement of people, the many generations of people that have put in a lot of work," Mutaliyev says, referring to the town that he helped build.
That work began in 1955, when the Soviets established a settlement on the banks of the Syr Darya river to house workers involved in building the cosmodrome.
The site later expanded to accommodate servicemen and their families working on classified space projects.
"I remember the times when the so-called elites were here. There were a lot of educated people," says Oksana Slivina, a teacher who moved to Baikonur when her father was stationed to the town by the military.
For many years, the town was closed to outsiders. Even today, anyone entering Baikonur is required to present a permit at the town's guarded checkpoint.
Located miles away from large cities, Baikonur was chosen due to its remote location in the desert, ideal for testing rockets.
Temperatures are brutally hot in the summer and plummet well below zero in the winter but the skies are usually clear and ideal for launches.
'Many are leaving'
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Baikonur became part of what is now Kazakhstan. Residents left en masse, abandoning homes in the face of an uncertain future.
Now it is leased by Russia from Kazakhstan under a contract that expires in 2050. Both Russian and Kazakh languages are used interchangeably, as are the two countries' currencies.
"Our goal was not to let the city fall apart and to preserve it for future development. I think we have managed that," says Mutaliyev.
The town lives and breathes space.
Its streets carry the names of Soviet space heroes. Buildings are decorated with space-themed art and streets are peppered with monuments to rockets, engineers and of, course, to Gagarin, a Russian national hero.
The town of around 76,000 people, which appears frozen in time, is a well-preserved relic of Soviet architecture and urban planning.
The younger generation see their future elsewhere.
"Many are leaving. Usually parents stay because the salaries are good and kids leave to Russia or elsewhere," says Georgy Ilin, a secondary school graduate.
The 21-year-old said he was planning to leave, too, to enter university, since "there is nowhere to study here".
Young people, Mutaliyev conceded, "don't see any prospects here".
He says the town has become "dormant" and hopes that Russia's return to the burgeoning space tourism, ushered in with Wednesday's launch, will give it a necessary boost.
Slivina, the teacher, says it would be a "shame" not to use the town's unique status to attract visitors.
"Of course money needs to be invested here -- and big money -- so it doesn't become embarrassing and so there is something to show people besides the launch pads," she says.
But the 57-year-old said she would always remain loyal to her home, that for many years was Earth's gateway to space.
"The town is close to my heart. I've spent half my life here. I will love it no matter what."
© 2021 AFP
The US Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a case that asks whether schools that make the bible an essential teaching tool and reject gay and transgender students can receive government funding.
The nine-judge court featuring six conservatives were considering a school aid program in the northeast state of Maine and will render a decision in the spring of next year.
As Maine is sparsely populated, more than half of its school districts have no publicly funded high schools. So families receive subsidies that allow them to send their kids to the school of their choice.
Parents can choose public or private schools, in Maine or another state, and even schools affiliated with religion, so long as the teaching there is not "sectarian."
It is this final clause that is at stake in the case before the Supreme Court. Two evangelical Christian families have sued to be able to use the education subsidy money to send their kids to religious schools that are not included in the aid program.
In denying them a spot in the program, local authorities argue that one of these schools "teaches children that the husband is the leader of the household" and encourages kids to recognize "God as Creator of the world."
The other makes use of the bible in all academic subjects. Both of them mix religious and academic teaching and do not accept LGBTQ students or employees.
Both sides in the argument invoke the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion but forbids any law "respecting an establishment of religion."
The parents who sued -- they are backed by a dozen or so Republican senators, 20-odd conservative-ruled states and many religious institutions -- insist on the freedom of religion clause to say they have the right to choose a school that reflects their values and say they are suffering discrimination because of their religious views.
The state of Maine says in turn that the clause on establishing a religion bars the use of government money to finance a religion.
The administration of President Joe Biden, Democratic-run states and teachers and human rights associations have backed Maine in this fight.
So far federal courts have sided with Maine. In agreeing to study the case the Supreme Court -- several of its justices have recently shown themselves quite willing to defend freedom of religion -- is suggesting that it might be willing to overrule the lower courts.
The case is a part of a much wider and very hot debate in the United States on the role of parents in the education of children.
It has featured arguments over mask mandates in schools, the teaching of racism's role in US history after the widespread street protests triggered by the death of George Floyd last year, and transgender students in schools.