The Early Edition: March 15, 2019

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

BUDGET REQUEST AND BORDER WALL

The Senate yesterday voted 59-41 to cancel President Trump’s national security declaration to fund a wall on the border, with 12 G.O.P. lawmakers joining Democrats in a rare rebuke of the president. Allan Smith and Rebecca Shabad report at NBC.

Trump quickly pledged a veto, sending a message on Twitter shortly after the vote simply stating: “VETO!” Yesterday’s vote marked back-to-back defeats for the president in the Republican-controlled Senate, with senators Wednesday approving a resolution seeking to end U.S. support for a Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the war in Yemen, Reuters reports.

The president claimed that vote was “a Democrat inspired Resolution which would OPEN BORDERS while increasing Crime … Drugs … and Trafficking in our Country,” making the remarks in a second message on Twitter. The White House is seeking to take nearly $6 billion in federal funds from accounts at the Treasury and Defense departments to build physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, Susan Davis reports at NPR.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan yesterday denied allegations that a Pentagon war fund has become a slush fund, making the claim under questioning from aspiring Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Warren pressed Shanahan on the Pentagon’s request for $164 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operation (O.C.O.) account in fiscal year 2020 –the Pentagon has claimed that $66 billion of that total represents war funds and $98 billion is allocated to base budget items, Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The Trump administration may send a volunteer emergency response team to help with security and humanitarian efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to four current and former officials briefed on the discussions. The Trump administration allegedly has been “casting about” for ways to commit additional resources to limit the flow of migrants, Ted Hesson reports at POLITICO.

An analysis of yesterday’s “rebuke” to the president is provided at the Economist.

“By choosing to defy a Republican president, these Republicans have stood up for the separation of powers … the rule of law … the constitution … and against executive overreach,” Matt Lewis comments at The Daily Beast, praising the senators’ “ gutsy move” and appealing to Republicans not to back down and switch votes following a presidential veto.

“The administration’s budget proposal shows that its true policy is to turn its back on refugees wherever they may be,” the Washington Post editorial board writes, arguing that the White House’s stance marks a departure from a U.S. tradition of compassion.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The House yesterday passed a resolution with “overwhelming” bipartisan support calling for a public release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. The House voted 420-0 in favor, although four Republicans voted “present,” Siobhan Hughes reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The vote came after a contentious debate on the floor of the House, in which Democratic lawmakers were lambasted for their criticisms of the president. In the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked for unanimous passage of the measure, provoking objections from Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.,) who argued that the resolution should include provisions calling for a special prosecutor to examine the federal probe of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s email use, and alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

Graham blocked the measure in the Senate, stressing that he supports Mueller’s probe but that he had been “trying to find balance” by supporting an investigation into Clinton. Under Senate rules, any one senator can try to pass or set up a vote on a bill, resolution or nomination but, in turn, any one senator can block their request, Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Mueller is reportedly shifting focus to Trump’s former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates. Gates has been quietly cooperating with federal prosecutors for over a year on Mueller’s investigation and is also a cooperating witness to other undisclosed federal probes, Morgan Chalfant reports at the Hill.

“What are the relative advantages of charging racketeering versus conspiracy when considering wide-ranging criminal conduct over a long period?” Dwight Holton provides an analysis of a debate that has blown up on social media at Just Security.

THE KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea is considering suspending talks with the U.S. and may reconsider a ban on missile and nuclear tests unless Washington makes concessions, according to Pyongyang’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. Choe blamed top U.S. officials for the collapse of last month’s Hanoi summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, stating: “we have no intention to yield to the U.S. demands [at the Hanoi summit] in any form … nor are we willing to engage in negotiations of this kind,” Al Jazeera reports.

“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” Choe commented, adding that the U.S. had thrown away “a golden opportunity” in Hanoi and that the North was no longer interested in coming to the negotiating table unless Washington changed its “political calculation,” Choe Sang-Hun reports at the New York Times.

VENEZUELA

The final remaining U.S. diplomats in Venezuela yesterday left the country, amid increasing tension between Washington and incumbent President Nicolás Maduro. “I know it is a difficult moment for [the diplomats],” U.S. Secretary of State Mike stated, adding that they would continue to carry on their “mission from other locations … where they will continue to help manage the flow of humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people,” Christopher Torchia reports at the AP.

Bolivian President and Maduro supporter Evo Morales said today that the international community should support a dialogue within Venzuela. “History has taught that there have been many interventions from the outside, such as the case of Libya and Iraq, and they never offered a solution”, Morales said in translated comments after meeting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during an official visit in Athens, Reuters reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Two rockets were fired at Tel Aviv from the Gaza Strip yesterday, leading to retaliatory airstrikes by the Israel Defense Force (I.D.F.) just hours later. The attack marks the first time since 2014 that rockets have reached the city; Israel blamed Palestinian militant Hamas group who control the Gaza strip, but the group denied responsibility claiming that operatives had launched the rockets “by mistake,” David M. Halbfinger reports at the New York Times.

Explosions were heard in Tel Aviv and witnesses said Iron Dome interceptor missiles were fired skyward and detonated, but the I.D.F. announced that no rockets were shot down and no one was hurt. The Israeli response saw about 30 raids targeting positions held by the military wing of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad, causing significant damage, according to a Gaza Palestinian security source, Al Jazeera reports.

SYRIA

Hundreds of Islamic State group militants along with women and children surrendered to U.S.-backed forces in eastern Syria yesterday as the jihadists lost ground in their last shred of territory at the village of Baghouz. Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) spokesperson Mustafa Bali commented that around 1,300 jihadists and their families came out of the town, with another S.D.F. commander remarking that “they are coming out this way in case there are snipers or someone wants to attack,” Reuters reports.

Syrian government and Russian airstrikes on the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib have intensified in recent days, raising concerns regarding of a military offensive that the U.N. has long cautioned would cause a humanitarian disaster. Russia and Turkey reached an agreement in September to establish a demilitarized buffer zone in the province to forestall a Syrian regime offensive; the truce largely held for months, but in early February daily attacks on civilian populations resumed, killing more than 110 people, according to the opposition rescue group White Helmets, Raja Abdulrahim reports at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 211 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between Feb. 10 and Feb. 23. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 49 people were killed today at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, in a brutal act of violence that was broadcast live on the internet after the publication of a white supremacist manifesto online. Live updates at the Guardian.

Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib yesterday criticized the Trump administration’s peace talks with the Taliban insurgents, accusing the U.S. of excluding the Kabul government and betraying the trust of a close ally; “we don’t know what’s going on … we don’t have the kind of transparency that we should have,” Mohib told reporters during a visit to Washington, Dan De Luce reports at NBC.

Internal U.N. documents illustrate how the U.S. works to stymie progress on women’s health, cultural issues, and climate change. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer explain at Foreign Policy. 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).