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‘Disgraceful abdication’: Potential 2024 contenders slam Biden’s swap of WNBA player for ‘Merchant of Death’

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Top Republican contenders for the 2024 presidential race spoke out against President Biden’s prisoner swap with Russia that released a convicted arms dealer.

On Thursday, Biden traded WNBA player Brittney Giner for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was arrested in 2008 on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans through global arms trade – earning the moniker “Merchant of Death.” Meanwhile, Marine veteran Paul Whelan remains in Russian prison. 

The exchange was celebrated for Griner’s release, though many criticized the swap for leaving Whelan behind.

“The return of any American hostage should be celebrated, but we cannot take our eyes off Paul Whelan and the pain his family is feeling today. This was not a fair trade for the “Merchant of Death” and signals to Putin that he will be rewarded for imprisoning Americans,” Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and rumored 2024 contender, told Fox News Digital in response to the trade. 

BIDEN PRISONER EXCHANGE FOR BRITTNEY GRINER LEAVES BEHIND MARINE VETERAN PAUL WHELAN – AGAIN

Brittney Griner, left, and Paul Whelan, right.

Brittney Griner, left, and Paul Whelan, right.

Following the announcement Griner’s return home, Whelan’s brother raised concerns over the possible repercussions of the trade and the need for a more effective approach to releasing detained Americans from foreign custody. 

COWBOYS STAR RIPS BIDEN OVER BRITTNEY GRINER RELEASE, WALKS BACK SCATHING TWEETS

“As the use of wrongful detentions and hostage diplomacy continues around the globe, it’s clear the U.S. government needs to be more assertive. If bad actors like Russia are going to grab innocent Americans, the U.S. needs a swifter, more direct response and to be prepared in advance,” David Whelan said. “In Russia’s case, this may mean taking more law-breaking, Kremlin-connected Russians into custody. It’s not like there aren’t plenty around the world.”

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, center, is escorted by policemen as he arrives for a hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Aug. 20, 2010.

Alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, center, is escorted by policemen as he arrives for a hearing at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on Aug. 20, 2010.
(CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Tim Scott, R-N.C., posted a statement to Twitter following the release, saying he is thankful Griner is heading home, but blasted Biden for “a disgraceful abdication” of leadership.

 “I hope Brittney continues to use her platform to keep the pressure to bring former Marine Paul Whelan home. Leaving Paul in Russia to Putin’s whim would be a disgraceful abdication of Biden’s leadership,” Scott, another rumored GOP contender for the White House, stated.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., also expressed her concern for leaving Whelan behind. “Joe Biden left a Marine stranded behind enemy lines,” the Senator posted to Twitter.

Whelan has been in Russian custody since 2018 on espionage charges, while Griner was detained in February after authorities discovered vape cartridges in her luggage that contained a small amount of cannabis oil.

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Despite backlash for the trade, White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre said that the White House will not apologize for releasing Griner, and they are continuing to negotiate the release of Whelan. “The president felt a moral obligation to bring Brittney home. There was an opportunity to do that, and it was either Brittney or no one at all, and we are not going to apologize for that,” Jean-Pierre said during a White House press briefing Thursday.

Fox News’ Thomas Phippen contributed to this story.

Source: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/disgraceful-abdication-potential-2024-contenders-slam-bidens-swap-wnba-player-merchant-of-death

Politics

‘FASCISM’: Florida Dem lashes out at DeSantis for targeting group that hosted ‘Drag Queen Christmas’ with kids

A Democrat from the Florida Congressional delegation is taking aim at Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis over his decision to file a legal complaint against the institution responsible for hosting “A Drag Queen Christmas” event, which children were allowed to attend.

The governor filed a six-count legal complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic Foundation for “exposing minor children to lewd sexual acts during a drag show that took place in Orlando on December 28,” local outlet The Floridian reported Friday.

Responding to DeSantis’ complaint, which could result in the state revoking the institution’s liquor license, freshman Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., accused to the governor of being a fascist.

“We’ve got to call this what it is: FASCISM in action. Queer celebration is anything but obscene,” Frost, who was elected to represent the Sunshine State’s 10th Congressional District in 2022, wrote in a tweet.

RON DESANTIS FILES LEGAL COMPLAINT AGAINST ORLANDO FOUNDATION FOR ALLEGEDLY SEXUALIZING KIDS WITH DRAG SHOW

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference on Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference on Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami.
(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

“We cannot tolerate DeSantis and his attempt to erase our communities,” he added. “I wholeheartedly condemn this attack and remain in solidarity with our beautiful LGBTQ+ family in Orlando.”

Fox News Digital reported DeSantis opening an investigation into the December show last year for allegedly exposing children to “sexualized acts.”

The show featured sexually provocative content like displays of prosthetic breasts and genitalia, “portrayals of simulated masturbation,” as well as “sexualized adaptations of popular children’s Christmas songs” including one called “Screwdolph the Red-Nippled Reindeer,” according to Florida’s complaint.

The event was held at the Broward Center of the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale and held as part of the national tour of “A Drag Queen Christmas.”

At the time, DeSantis Press Secretary Bryan Griffin confirmed the administration’s investigation. In a statement published last year, Griffin said: “The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) is aware of multiple complaints about a sexually explicit performance marketed to children held in Fort Lauderdale on December 26th. The Department is actively investigating this matter.”

FLORIDA AG INVESTIGATING DRAG SHOW FOR EXPOSING KIDS TO ‘SEXUALIZED ACTS’: WE WILL ‘NOT SIT BACK’

The Floridian’s Friday report provided the latest developments in the investigation, claiming DeSantis has filed the six-count charge through the DBPR.

Florida Gov Ron DeSantis is going after an event venue for holding a drag queen show that allegedly showed lewd and lascivious acts to children in the audience.

Florida Gov Ron DeSantis is going after an event venue for holding a drag queen show that allegedly showed lewd and lascivious acts to children in the audience.
(Florida DBPR /Kyle Mazza/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The official complaint claimed, “On December 28, 2022, Respondent hosted and supported a ticketed event titled ‘A Drag Queen Christmas’ (‘the Show’) on the Licensed Premises and sold alcoholic beverages to patrons in attendance. Respondent promoted the Show using targeted, Christmas-themed promotional materials that did not provide notice to the sexually explicit nature of the Show’s performances or other content.”

The complaint also charged that the show provided “promotional materials” that “unequivocally stated ‘[a]ll ages welcome.’”

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Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at an election night party on Nov. 8, 2022, as his wife Casey listens.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at an election night party on Nov. 8, 2022, as his wife Casey listens.
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell))

In addition, the administration claimed that, “prior to the show,” it “sent a letter to Respondent notifying Respondent that ‘[s]exually explicit drag show performances constitute public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct when minors are in attendance’” and warned that if it failed to keep minors away from the show it would be “subject to penalties up to and including revocation” of its liquor and tobacco license.

The complaint charged that the foundation “nevertheless allowed minors to attend the Show,” despite the warning.

Fox News’ Gabriel Hays contributed to this article.

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Politics

California reverses COVID vaccine requirement for students as it ends Newsom emergency declaration

California officials confirmed Friday that children will not be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend schools. 

Nearly all restrictions put in place by Gov. Gavin Newsom have been lifted and the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration officially ends on Feb. 28.

However, the policy – first put in place in 2021 – had come from the Department of Public Health and was not impacted by the emergency declaration lifting. 

The department told Fox News Digital in an emailed statement on Saturday morning that COVID-19 immunization is an important tool for keeping kids healthy and schools open and that it strongly recommends vaccination against the disease, noting that it had contributed to keeping children there in school. 

“The state’s SMARTER Plan continues to provide an adequate framework to address the current COVID-19 situation, and has led to the decision to end the COVID-19 State of Emergency on February 28, 2023,” the department explained. “As such, CDPH is not currently exploring emergency rulemaking to add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of required school vaccinations, but we continue to strongly recommend COVID-19 immunization for students and staff to keep everyone safer in the classroom. Any changes to required K-12 immunizations are properly addressed through the legislative process.”

It also noted that mobile vaccination services remain available for any K-12 school in California. 

FILE - Johnny Thai, 11, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a pediatric vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11 set up at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, California, Nov. 9, 2021.

FILE – Johnny Thai, 11, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a pediatric vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11 set up at Willard Intermediate School in Santa Ana, California, Nov. 9, 2021.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

KENTUCKY GOV. BESHEAR SAYS EXPANDED COVID MEDICAID COVERAGE SOON TO END

California was the first state to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. 

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Nurse Eliane McGhee prepares COVID-19 booster shot during the Los Angeles Comic Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Dec 2, 2022. 

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Nurse Eliane McGhee prepares COVID-19 booster shot during the Los Angeles Comic Con at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Dec 2, 2022. 
(Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

CALIFORNIA DA CALLS NEWSOM A ‘MENACE TO PUBLIC SAFETY’ IN ESCALATING WAR OF WORDS OVER POLICE OFFICER’S DEATH

Most states did not follow California’s lead when it came to instituting a vaccine mandate for public schools

Students in the Exploring Computer Science class listen to Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, Los Angeles Unifed School District, while Carvalho tours Maywood Center For Enriched Studies Magnet school, Feb. 16, 2022, in Maywood, California.

Students in the Exploring Computer Science class listen to Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, Los Angeles Unifed School District, while Carvalho tours Maywood Center For Enriched Studies Magnet school, Feb. 16, 2022, in Maywood, California.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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However, schools in the District of Columbia plan to require the vaccine starting in the fall. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Politics

Chinese spy balloon raises alarm bells over China buying up US land

A Chinese balloon craft floating over the northern United States has re-energized concerns among experts and lawmakers over China’s ongoing efforts to buy land across the U.S., with some voices observing a “pattern” of suspected espionage activities near American military sites.

China on Friday confirmed the balloon is Chinese, claiming it’s a civilian research craft that was blown far off course by prevailing winds. However, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder described the craft during briefings on Thursday and Friday as a high-altitude surveillance balloon.

“Instances of this kind of balloon activity have been observed previously over the past several years,” said Ryder. “Once the balloon was detected, the U.S. government acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information.”

The suspected spy balloon was spotted over Montana, home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Map shows approximate path of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over Montana, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Map shows approximate path of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over Montana, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
(Fox News)

CHINESE SPY BALLOON OVER CENTRAL US, WILL BE IN US AIRSPACE FOR ‘A FEW DAYS,’ PENTAGON SAYS

U.S. officials have previously warned about Chinese companies, such as the telecommunications giant Huawei, purchasing land near critical infrastructure in Montana and potentially capturing sensitive information regarding intercontinental ballistic missiles under the direction of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Base.

“Set against that destructive power is a completely serene and wide-open landscape. It’s just wheat fields and big sky country,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in 2021 while describing a trip to the base two years earlier. “Except for one thing: There are cell towers all around those Montana missile fields that have been running on Huawei equipment.”

The Chinese surveillance balloon has prompted Montana lawmakers to push for a ban on Chinese agricultural land purchases in the state.

“This really shows that there are nations out there that want to spy on us. Senate Bill 203 prevents those adversarial nations from purchasing our ag production land and our critical infrastructure,” Montana state Sen. Ken Bogner told local outlet KTQV. “The Ag production land hits issues of food security — we help feed the entire nation. And the critical infrastructure is things like oil refineries, telecommunication facilities. So, it’s a plethora of things to make sure that we’re protected as much as we can be here in the state.”

More broadly, experts told Fox News Digital that the balloon is indicative of a larger Chinese espionage effort. 

Gordon Chang told Fox News Digital that China is preparing its citizens for war

Gordon Chang told Fox News Digital that China is preparing its citizens for war
(Fox News)

CHINA EXPERT SOUNDS ALARM ON SPY BALLOON HOVERING OVER US: ‘IT’S VERY DANGEROUS WHAT THEY’RE DOING’

“China has stepped up its espionage activities against sensitive military facilities,” said Gordan Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War.” “This is clearly part of a pattern.”

Last summer, the Chinese company Fufeng Group, a food manufacturer, made headlines for purchasing 370 acres of land in Grand Forks, N.D., some 15 miles away from Grand Forks Air Force, a center for both air and space operations.

The Air Force this week denied Fufeng Group its building permits for a wet corn milling plant on the land, calling the project a “significant threat to national security.”

In Texas, meanwhile, a Chinese company owned by a former Chinese soldier with ties to the ruling Communist Party bought 130,000 acres near Laughlin Air Force Base, where pilots are trained.

Texas Republicans and Gov. Greg Abbott are seeking to ban Chinese citizens and businesses from buying property in the Lone Star State.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been outspoken about the threats posed by China's strategic land purchases in the U.S. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been outspoken about the threats posed by China’s strategic land purchases in the U.S. 
(Photo by Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

STEFANIK, ROUNDS LEAD BIPARTISAN BILL TO PREVENT CHINA, FOREIGN ADVERSARIES FROM BUYING INTO US AGRICULTURE

Florida and Virginia are among other states where leaders have been backed similar bans.

“Whether this is actually part of plan or not, these purchases are suspiciously close to sensitive military facilities and therefore shouldn’t be allowed,” said Chang.

He argued that until the U.S. gets a hold of these suspicious activities on agricultural land, the U.S. needs to institute a prohibition on Chinese land purchases.

“No Chinese entity should own farm or ranch land in U.S., full stop, including land involved in food processing,” said Chang. “Chinese parties that own this land should either have it expropriated with compensation or, if there was criminal activity, forfeiture statues should be used to take it away.”

Beyond the states, lawmakers at the federal level have also been pushing to crack down on Chinese entities buying U.S. land.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has introduced legislation to bar China from purchasing U.S. farmland 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., has introduced legislation to bar China from purchasing U.S. farmland 
(Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

AFTER CHINESE BALLOON ENTERS US AIRSPACE, BIDEN SECRETARY OF STATE POSTPONES TRIP TO CHINA

In the Senate, Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced legislation that would blacklist China and other “foreign adversaries” from investing in, purchasing, or otherwise acquiring land or businesses involved in agriculture.

In the House, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Dan Newhouse (D-Wash.) introduced similar legislation to block China from purchasing American farmland.

“As more reports come in, it is becoming apparent the Chinese Communist Party is deliberately testing how the United States will respond to their provocative actions,” Newhouse told Fox News Digital. “This is yet another example of their alarming aggression. President Biden must act swiftly to confront this situation.”

“As a member of the House Select Committee on China,” he continued, “I am eager to further investigate the aggressive actions of the CCP and seek avenues to hold them accountable.”

Rodgers’ office echoed those sentiments and the need to remain vigilant.

“The situation unfolding is worrisome. The congresswoman believes that under no circumstances should an aircraft operated by the Chinese government be flying in American airspace conducting surveillance,” said Rodgers spokesman Kyle VonEnde. “She continues to monitor the situation closely and is grateful to the servicemen and women of Fairchild Air Force Base, whose swift response once again demonstrates just how vital their strategic mission is to keeping our skies safe from adversaries in the Pacific arena.”

Both bills were introduced this week not long before the Chinese surveillance balloon became public.

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Several prominent Republicans called for President Biden to shoot down the Chinese balloon, while others demanded an intelligence briefing. Biden declined to shoot down the Chinese spy balloon, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a trip to China following the controversy over the balloon

The Pentagon said Friday the craft doesn’t pose a military or physical threat to people on the ground but continues to track its movement.

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