WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is launching a new political action committee, a platform that will allow him to provide help to favored candidates and, inevitably, boost speculation about a possible run for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

The organization, which Biden is calling American Possibilities, will be staffed by a former top political aide to the vice president, Greg Schultz, who is also a veteran of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

The PAC will allow Biden to raise money that he can use to travel the country, contribute to candidates in governor’s races this year and congressional and state races in 2018 and generally do the sorts of things that aspiring politicians do to keep their names in the headlines.

All that can’t help but nurture questions about whether Biden, 74, will try yet again to attain the office he first started running for in 1987.

In public appearances, which have taken him to electorally important states, and interviews since the 2016 election, Biden has been sharply critical of the Trump administration, but has also pointed to flaws in his own party. In one interview, he pointed to a “bit of elitism that’s crept in” to the party’s approach to working-class voters.

At the same time, he has given carefully ambiguous answers when asked about his plans. At a conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, he responded to the question about a presidential run by saying: “Could I? Yes. Would I? Probably not.”

In the announcement for the new group, Biden said that “the negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics drives me crazy. It’s not who we are.”

—Tribune Washington Bureau


Senators propose stronger US sanctions against Russia

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Banking Committee announced a plan Wednesday to strengthen sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine and Syria, as well as internet intrusions in the U.S.

The proposal is a signal that some in Congress intend to push back on the Trump administration’s moves to explore an improvement in relations with Moscow.

Panel Chairman Mike Crapo of Idaho and top Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio said their bill would authorize “broad” new sanctions targeting sectors of Russia’s economy including mining, metals and railways.

It would codify and strengthen existing sanctions included in executive orders affecting Russian energy projects and debt financing in key economic sectors, the senators said in a press release.

“Despite existing sanctions, Russia remains a hostile, recalcitrant power, deploying its military, cyber-enabled information espionage activities, and economic tactics to harm the United States and drive a wedge between it and its allies,” the committee statement said. “There is significant congressional interest in ensuring sanctions on Russia are effective and proportionally enhanced, particularly in light of continuing Russian intransigence in these areas.”

The text will be released later, according to the statement.

The question of Russian sanctions has been raised by a number of senators in both parties after the intelligence community announced in January its conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of President Donald Trump.

—Bloomberg News


Thieves using blow torch end up igniting cash inside ATM, police says

SEATTLE — Two thieves saw their loot go up in smoke when they used a blow torch to break into a bank ATM and ignited the cash inside, according to Everett police.

Everett firefighters responded to a fire alarm at a Coastal Community Bank branch around 6 a.m. Tuesday and found the building and ATM had been damaged and that cash inside had been set ablaze, police said. Damage to the building, ATM and cash was estimated at $35,000.

Police also released surveillance video of the break-in at the bank.

Police say they have probable cause to arrest two suspects on investigation of arson and burglary. They have been identified as Eli Steen and Jason Kovar, both 31. Police say the two men also are wanted for questioning in connection with several commercial burglaries.

—The Seattle Times


US, region’s foreign ministers debate Venezuela

WASHINGTON — The United States and foreign ministers from across the hemisphere met in Washington on Wednesday to attempt to force Venezuela’s leftist government and its angry opposition into talks.

Hunger and violence have pushed Venezuela to the brink of humanitarian disaster, diplomats say.

But Wednesday’s meeting of the Organization of American States faced unlikely prospects for success: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro does not trust the organization and has said his nation will withdraw its membership.

Some OAS nations, including several U.S. allies in the Caribbean, have criticized the regional body’s efforts as intervention promoted by Washington.

But U.S. officials are hoping the sheer weight of the crisis will unite the region to put pressure on Venezuela.

“There’s more and more concern about what we’re seeing, and so more and more countries have gotten over their reluctance to question or go against the wishes of the Venezuelan government,” a senior State Department official said in a briefing for reporters.

“It’s really hard to stand by and do nothing in the face of the kinds of institutional steps we’ve seen in Venezuela, and the increasing humanitarian suffering,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in keeping with frequent administration practice.

Although the OAS periodically brings its members’ foreign ministers together, this is the first time a meeting has been convened to deal with a single topic, U.S. officials said.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s session, diplomats said they had discussed two resolutions. One, promoted by Caribbean nations, called on Venezuela to reconsider withdrawing from the OAS.

A second more pointed resolution authored by the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama and Peru urged the Maduro administration not to go ahead with a constituent assembly that would rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. Many fear it would dissolve the few democratic institutions that remain and favor the ruling Socialist Party.

Separately, the Venezuela opposition, emboldened by a string of increasingly massive street demonstrations, sharply criticized Wall Street for extending what it called a “lifeline” to the Maduro government.

At issue is the purchase by Goldman Sachs of Venezuelan government bonds for a reported $865 million, a major discount for paper originally worth $2.8 billion.

Goldman Sachs confirmed the purchase of the bonds, issued in 2014 by the state oil company PDVSA, after it was reported in The Wall Street Journal.

—Tribune Washington Bureau

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