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First Thing: Debt ceiling deal within sight as Biden and Republicans continue to negotiate

Good morning.

Joe Biden and Republican lawmakers yesterday appeared to be nearing a deal to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling, with little time to spare to avoid a potential default that could wreak havoc on the economy and global markets.

The deal under consideration by negotiators would raise the government’s $31.4tn debt ceiling for two years while capping spending on most items, a US official told Reuters. It would also increase funding for discretionary spending on military and veterans while essentially holding non-defense discretionary spending at current year levels, the official said.

The agreement would specify the total amount the government could spend on discretionary programs including housing and education, according to a person familiar with the talks. The two sides, who met virtually on Thursday, are just $70bn apart on a total figure that would be well over $1tn, according to another source.

Republican negotiators have backed off plans to increase military spending while cutting non-defense spending and instead backed a White House push to treat both budget items more equally. Conversations are set to continue into the night.

  • What did McCarthy say yesterday? The Republican House speaker told reporters last night that the two sides have not reached a deal. “We knew this would not be easy,” he said.

  • What did Biden say? “Speaker McCarthy and I have had several productive conversations, and our staffs continue to meet – as we speak, as a matter of fact – and they’re making progress,” Biden said last night at the White House. “There will be no default, and it’s time for Congress to act now.”

Joe Biden’s advisers say he doesn’t want to drag Pacific allies into ‘headlong clash’ between US and China

Joe Biden’s advisers say the president understands he cannot strengthen relations with Pacific allies by jamming ‘our views down their throat’. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Joe Biden’s senior advisers have acknowledged countries in the Indo-Pacific don’t want to be “trampled by a headlong clash” between the US and China.

In a webinar in front of an Australian audience on Friday, senior White House national security council (NSC) officials said the US president wanted to give allies and other close partners “breathing space” to engage with China constructively.

Edgard Kagan, the NSC’s senior director for east Asia and Oceania, said Biden had been listening to the region’s concerns.

“I think the president is very focused on the fact that we cannot strengthen our relations with allies and partners if we just try and jam our views down their throat,” Kagan said. “That’s not who he is.”

  • What has China said? Beijing has accused the G7 countries of collaborating to “smear and attack” it at last weekend’s summit in Hiroshima, Japan, after leaders outlined strong concerns about China’s actions in the region.

  • What has Biden said? After attending the summit, Biden told reporters to expect improvements in the US-China relationship, adding: “In terms of talking with them, I think you’re going to see that thaw very shortly.”

Far-right Oath Keepers founder sentenced to 18 years over January 6 attack

Stewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes pictured in 2017. Other members of the Oath Keepers are due to be sentenced this week and next. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was sentenced yesterday to 18 years in prison, after being convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in the January 6 attack on Congress.

Prosecutors sought a 25-year term. Lawyers for Rhodes said he should be sentenced to time served, since his arrest in January 2022.

Before handing down the sentence, the US district judge, Amit Mehta, told a defiant Rhodes he posed a continued threat to the US government, saying it was clear he “wants democracy in this country to devolve into violence”.

“The moment you are released, whenever that may be, you will be ready to take up arms against your government,” Mehta said.

Rhodes claimed the prosecution was politically motivated. “I’m a political prisoner and like President Trump my only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country,” he said.

  • What did he do on January 6? He said never went inside the Capitol on January 6 and insisted he never told anyone else to do so but members of the Oath Keepers took an active role on 6 January 2021, when a mob incited by Donald Trump smashed its way into the Capitol, attempting to stop certification of Joe Biden’s election win. Prosecutors successfully made the case that Rhodes and his group prepared an armed rebellion, including stashing arms at a Virginia hotel, meant for quick transfer to Washington DC.

In other news …

Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson in Bob Rafelson’s 1981 film of The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M Cain
Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson in Bob Rafelson’s 1981 film of The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M Cain. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy
  • A New York editor and literary detective is celebrating the discovery and release of an unpublished short story by James M Cain, one of the greats of American noir, a “poet of the tabloid murder” whose works made famous on film include The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity.

  • An FBI file relating to a visit to the US by the late Queen Elizabeth II has revealed a potential plot to assassinate her. The document, available on the FBI’s online vault, outlines what appears to be intelligence provided to federal agents about a threat to the queen’s life in California 40 years ago.

  • Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-implant company, said yesterday it had received a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to kickstart its first in-human clinical study, a critical milestone after earlier struggles to gain approval.

  • The parent behind Amanda Gorman’s poem ban in a Florida school appears to have attended Proud Boys rallies and has previously posted antisemitic memes online. In one photo, Daily Salinas appears to be standing next to Enrique Tarrio, the far-right group’s neo-fascist leader.

Stat of the day: More than 5,000 new species discovered in Pacific deep-sea mining hotspot

Scientists have discovered more than 5,000 new species living on the seabed in an untouched area of the Pacific Ocean that has been identified as a future hotspot for deep-sea mining, according to a review of the environmental surveys done in the area. It is the first time the previously unknown biodiversity of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a mineral-rich area of the ocean floor that spans 1.7m sq miles between Hawaii and Mexico in the Pacific, has been comprehensively documented. The research will be critical to assessing the risk of extinction of the species, given contracts for deep-sea mining in the near-pristine area appear imminent. Most of the animals identified by researchers exploring the zone are new to science.

Don’t miss this: ‘I want my left eye back’: those injured by 2020’s police violence speak out

A protester is arrested on Fifth Avenue by NYPD officers during a march in June 2020 in Manhattan
A protester is arrested on Fifth Avenue by NYPD officers during a march in June 2020 in Manhattan. Photograph: John Minchillo/AP

“You don’t recover from something like this. That’s not a thing you do,” said journalist Linda Tirado, who was partially blinded after being fired on by the police while covering the protests that engulfed Minneapolis for months after George Floyd was slowly murdered in plain public view by a senior police officer in the city. Tirado is one of many who were injured in the protests that year and won a legal case against the city, which has already agreed to pay out at least $5.1m in settlements to demonstrators – using city funds – and is estimated to be facing an additional $100m more in potential payouts as a result of lawsuits. Her settlement is just one of many that add up to what experts deem record level of payouts across the US as a result of violent policing of the 2020 protests, with probably many more to come, writes Gloria Oladipo.

… or this: ‘We don’t do deep emotional discussions’: why men lose their friends – and how they can make more

Garrie Coleman, who joined a scooter club to make friends
Running with the pack … Garrie Coleman, 54 (centre), joined a scooter club to make friends. Photograph: Christoper Owens/NY Today News

Is there a difference in men’s and women’s friendships? Dr Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, and a top researcher into friends and friendship, says there is, though some might not want to believe it. Women’s friendships tend to be more personalised and dyadic: who you are is the most important thing. “Men’s friendships are more clubby, and in some sense anonymous – it matters more what you are than who you are,” he says. A recent survey in the US found that men have fewer social ties than they used to, with only 27% saying they have at least six close friends. In 1990, this figure was 55%. During that period, the number of men reporting no close friendships has risen from 3% to 15%. It would seem there is, for men at least, a friendship recession. But even in middle age, where the ‘friendship recession’ hits hardest, it’s possible to buck the trend.

Climate check: Seaweed could avert food crisis caused by extreme weather

Sea lettuce
Scientists believe Ulva can become a staple crop via undersea farming – once people acquire a taste for it. Photograph: FLPA/Alamy

Extreme weather events have been reducing crop yields across the world and many countries that import a lot of their food could soon face a crisis. Politicians barely seem bothered about this but thankfully scientists think they have found a solution – undersea farming. This is not for fish but seaweed, which they call seawheat. People have been eating seaweed for thousands of years but the scientists believe mass production of a species called Ulva, as a staple crop, will be necessary to keep countries from food shortages. They realise that shifting people from eating wheat to seaweed is not just a technical question of the best way to mass production, but is a major cultural shift, and so have called in chefs to create recipes for salads, stir-fries and soups.

Last Thing: ‘Truth is sacred’: Tom Hanks gives keynote speech and receives honorary degree from Harvard

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks received an honorary doctor of arts degree from Harvard University during its 372nd commencement on Thursday. The actor also received a volleyball in tribute to his role in Castaway. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

As the US grapples with a disinformation crisis, Tom Hanks told graduates of Harvard yesterday to be superheroes in their defense of truth and American ideals, and to resist those who twist the truth for their own gain. “For the truth to some is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data, nor common sense, nor even common decency,” the two-time Academy Award-winner said during his keynote address. He invoked the Latin word for truth, “veritas”, Harvard’s motto. “Telling the truth is no longer the benchmark for public service,” he said. “It’s no longer the salve to our fears, or the guide to our actions. Truth is now considered malleable, by opinion and by zero-sum endgames.” That left the more than 9,000 graduates at Harvard’s 372nd commencement with a choice to make, said the Hollywood icon.

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