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Analysis-Are high prices unpatriotic or as American as you can get?

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden leaves St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church after attending a mass in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, U.S., June 18, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

By David Lawder and Heather Timmons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s pointed criticism of oil and gas companies for earning massive profits as families suffer from high gasoline prices challenges a pillar of American capitalism: that U.S. companies should make as much profit as they legally can, and direct that windfall back to investors.

Biden told Shell (LON:RDSa) Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron Corp (NYSE:CVX) and other refining giants last week they have another responsibility: to do everything they can to bring down high gasoline prices that are squeezing American consumers and driving up inflation.

“We see it as a patriotic duty,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused gas price hikes, she said.

“We know where to put the blame, on the war. But oil companies, oil refiners they have responsibilities too. What they have been doing is taking advantage of the war.”  

Particularly galling to the White House is the jump in industry stock buybacks, returning to investors profits that the administration wants invested in more refining capacity to bring gasoline prices down.

Biden’s criticism is being soundly rebuffed by industry executives and trade groups as having no place in an economic discussion.

“The injection of ‘patriotism’ into this is an attempt to put shame on folks,” said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the pro-business lobby group. “These are market forces and market functions.”

Instead, Bradley and other industry officials say the administration should remove import tariffs and cut regulations to allow more domestic fossil fuel production and refining, which would signal to energy markets that supplies will increase.

But the idea that U.S. chief executives should serve other stakeholders besides investors, and take direction from other masters besides market forces isn’t new for Biden, the U.S. presidency, or for corporate America.

His recent push is part of a slow-boil rethink of the role that companies, chief executives and the very wealthy should play in the U.S., what workers and average citizens deserve and whom governments should champion and protect.

Biden himself campaigned on a promise to fix American inequality, raise wages and force companies to pay their “fair share” in taxes, part of a broader attempt to reshape the U.S. economy.

Democrats’ roughly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus has pushed bills expanding workers’ and consumers’ rights, playing a growing role in Washington lawmaking.

And these companies have made promises too. In the summer of 2019, CEOs of more than 180 big U.S. companies, including Exxon and Chevron, pledged https://www.businessroundtable.org/business-roundtable-redefines-the-purpose-of-a-corporation-to-promote-an-economy-that-serves-all-americans they would not only work for shareholders, but employees, customers, suppliers and their communities to “build an economy that serves all Americans.”

Inflation hits poorer Americans particularly hard because they spend a greater percentage of their income on food and fuel. Asked last week about the pledge in the context of Biden’s remarks, the Business Roundtable group that organized it said in an email: “BRT CEOs, including our energy members, are attempting to do just that while navigating a global energy crisis, high costs for crude oil and other inputs, and an adverse regulatory and investment environment.”

Biden’s attempt to shame these companies into taking less profit has historical precedent.

President John F. Kennedy attempted to curb steel prices https://www.jfklibrary.org/archives/other-resources/john-f-kennedy-press-conferences/news-conference-30 60 years ago, criticizing “a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility,” and accusing them or showing “utter contempt for the interests of 185 million Americans.”

Kennedy’s diatribe in April 1962 came in response to steel companies announcing a $6-a-ton price increase, shortly after agreeing to a new contract — brokered by Kennedy’s administration — with the United Steelworkers union. A day after Kennedy’s remarks, the companies rescinded the price hike.

Unlike today, the exchange came at a time when steel profits were declining, imports were increasing and shares were falling. Announcing disappointing earnings a month later, U.S. Steel Corp CEO Roger Blough reportedly told shareholders:

“This concept is incomprehensible to me – the belief that government can ever serve the national interest in peacetime by seeking to control prices in competitive American business, directly or indirectly, through force of law or otherwise.”

Jawboning companies “to reduce inflation has never been very effective,” said Martin Bailly, a senior fellow in economic studies at the centrist Brookings Institution think tank.

“Biden’s frustration is understandable because there is no tool to reduce inflation except to put the whole economy into a downturn,” said Bailly, an expert on regulation and productivity.

“I think the right approach is to tough this situation out. Tell Americans that the inflation is the result of disruptions from COVID-19 and the huge price shock from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Support the Federal Reserve and say that things will be bad for some time, but we will get through this and restore growth and price stability as soon as possible.”

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U.S. Capitol riot panel promises new evidence at surprise Tuesday hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A video of former U.S President Donald Trump speaking is shown on a screen during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.

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By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee plans to reveal new evidence about the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters at a public hearing on Tuesday it hastily announced a mere 24 hours earlier.

The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, declined to answer questions about who might testify or what evidence would be presented.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, several media outlets reported. Representatives of the panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

The meeting, announced on Monday, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.

Testimony at five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.

British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of his interviews with Trump and his family, according to media reports.

The committee has said it intends to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intended to speak to the panel.

U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.

This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Dozens of courts, state election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, some of which included outlandish stories about an Italian security firm or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believe Trump’s false election fraud claims.

The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.

During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

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Rescuers dig for survivors after Russian missiles demolish Ukrainian shopping mall

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6/6

© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko

2/6

By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Firefighters and soldiers searched on Tuesday for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine after a Russian missile strike killed at least 18 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in Kremenchuk, about 300 km (200 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, Poltava region governor Dmytro Lunin said.

Zelenskiy, in an overnight video address, called the attack deliberate, saying it was “a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre”.

Russia said the incident was caused by a strike on a legitimate military target. Its defence ministry, quoted by the RIA state news agency, said it had fired missiles at a storage depot for Western weapons in Kremenchuk, and the detonation of stored ammunition there had caused the fire at the nearby mall.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters a missile had also struck a nearby factory, but it was closed and not a military target.

“It’s a question about crimes against humanity,” she said. “I think it’s like systematical shelling of civilian infrastructure – with what aim? To scare people, to kill people to make terror in our cities and villages.”

Relatives of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers set up a base after Monday’s strike.

A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.

“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.

“It was hell,” said her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage around his head.

At the scene of the blaze on Tuesday morning, exhausted-looking firefighters sat on a kerb. Oleksandr, wetting his face from a water bottle on a bench, said his team had worked all night picking through the rubble.

“We pulled out five bodies. We didn’t find anybody alive,” he said.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.

“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a joint statement.

BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK

Russia denies intentionally targetting civilians in its “special military operation” which has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

The U.N. Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, will meet on Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was deplorable.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk.

Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukraine said the Russians attempted to storm it.

Lysychansk is the last big city held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take Kyiv early in the war.

Eight residents including a child were killed and 21 wounded by shelling when they gathered to get drinking water in Lysychansk on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

Ukrainian forces controlled the city but its loss was possible as Russia poured resources into the fight, he added.

“They really want this and a lot of reserves are being thrown just for this…We do not need to lose an army for the sake of one city,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Moscow of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city stadium.

Fighting was going on in several surrounding villages, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on Telegram.

Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.

The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among the wounded, the governor said.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders vowed to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions that include a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil.

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Russia expands U.S. sanctions list to include Biden’s wife and daughter

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Marine One as they return from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday expanded its U.S. ‘stop-list’, including in it the wife and daughter of President Joe Biden as well as other prominent figures.

The step was taken “as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

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