The Early Edition: April 22, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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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.  

CORONAVIRUS

The coronavirus death toll in the United States surpassed 45,000 yesterday doubling in just over a week and rising by a near-record amount in a single day. The United States has by far the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world with over 810,000, nearly four times as many as Spain, the country with the second-highest number. Globally, Covid-19 has infected more than 2.5 million people and killed at least 177,000. Reuters reporting.

President Trump said yesterday his impending executive order barring new immigration will apply only to those seeking green cards, last 60 days and will not affect workers coming into the country on a temporary basis. Offering the first details about a vague announcement he made Monday night on Twitter, Trump unveiled something short of a full stop on immigration amid the coronavirus pandemic. The President argued the controversial move would help Americans find work again after coronavirus caused a spike in unemployment. Kevin Liptak, Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands report for CNN.

The Senate yesterday passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief package that would replenish a small-business loan program and provide funds for hospitals and coronavirus testing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement that they were “proud” to have secured an interim aid bill that went further than the initial Republican proposal; in a statement announcing the deal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said: “I am just sorry that it took my colleagues in Democratic leadership 12 days to accept the inevitable, and that they shut down emergency support for Main Street in a search for partisan ‘leverage’ that never materialized.” The House is expected to approve the measure tomorrow. Burgess Everett and Heather Caygle report for POLITICO.

The new coronavirus was likely spreading unrecognized in California much earlier than was previously known, experts said last night, after officials in Santa Clara County announced that two residents there died of Covid-19 in early and mid-February, making them the earliest known victims of the pandemic in the United States. Until now it was thought the first coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. came on Feb. 26, in Washington state. Thomas Fuller and Mike Baker report for the New York Times.

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.), warned yesterday that a new wave of coronavirus infections hitting the U.S. next winter could be “even more difficult” for America to deal with than the current outbreak because it will likely collide with the beginning of flu season. Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the healthcare system, Redfield said. He stressed that public officials must continue to use social distancing guidelines in the coming months to control the impact of a potential second wave of deadly infections, as well as robust contract tracing. Lena H. Sun reports for the Washington Post.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said Trump agreed on a proposal for doubling the state’s coronavirus screening capacity to 40,000 tests per day. Under that plan, Cuomo said, the federal government will secure and supply the test kits and related materials, including the chemical reagents that have occasionally been in short supply. New York is the epicenter of America’s coronavirus epidemic with almost 20,000 deaths. Reuters reporting.

Health-care facilities have still not received $70 billion of the emergency support apportioned to them nearly a month ago in the last stimulus package. The Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.) is facing condemnation from both parties in Congress, not only for the delay in disbursing the money, but also over a failure to give more details about how the funds will be divided up between hospitals and other providers. Stephanie Armour reports for the Wall Street Journal.

An analysis of coronavirus patients at Veterans Health Administration hospitals who were given hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug widely promoted as a potential treatment for Covid-19, found that the medicine has no benefit. Death rates were higher for patients who got the drug, either alone or in combination with an antibiotic, than among those receiving regular care. The results, however, were not part of a controlled clinical experiment or drug trial, which is the gold standard for testing drugs. Christopher Rowland reports for the Washington Post.

Since the coronavirus hit the United States, immigration authorities have deported scores of infected migrants back to vulnerable countries, leaving governments and nonprofits across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean scrambling to respond. When some countries opposed continued deportations, U.S. officials said they would screen migrants slated for expulsion. But they did not commit to providing coronavirus tests and in many instances, the screenings have failed to uncover cases. Kevin Sieff and Nick Miroff report for the Washington Post.

As the governors of some states, including Georgia, are easing stay-at-home orders and allowing some businesses to reopen, public health experts have warned that the coronavirus outbreak has not leveled off. “That could be setting us back,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said yesterday of the moves to reopen. “It certainly isn’t going to be helpful.” Business owners are also pushing back, arguing that testing is not widespread enough to reopen safely, and that doing so too soon could set off another wave of infections. Rick Rojas and Richard Fausset report for the New York Times.

The State Department has found that Russia, China and Iran are ramping up disinformation campaigns against the U.S. connected to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, according to an internal report. All three countries are utilizing state-controlled media, social media and government agencies and officials to spread information to domestic audiences and global audiences alike that vilifies the U.S. and spreads false accounts, the State Department report says. The sequence allows officials and official sources to give credibility to information disseminated by unofficial sources, the report said. Jessica Donati reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Attorney General William Barr warned yesterday that the Justice Department could take legal action against governors who continue to enforce restrictions in their states to fight the coronavirus if they “impinge on either civil rights or on national commerce.” In an interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show,” Barr said the department would not hesitate to join lawsuits filed by citizens or businesses in response to certain state directives. “We’re looking carefully at a number of these rules that are being put into place,” he said. “And if we think one goes too far, we initially try to jawbone the governors into rolling them back or adjusting them … and if they’re not and people bring lawsuits, we file statements of interest and side with the plaintiffs.” Barr’s remarks come amid conservative protests against stay-at-home orders in several states, which were further encouraged by Trump’s posts on social media urging citizens in Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia to demand officials “LIBERATE” their states. Chris Strohm reports for Bloomberg.

Missouri is suing the Chinese government and other top institutions for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the effects it has had on the state, accusing the country of hiding information, trying to cover the “gravity and seriousness” of the outbreak and doing little to stem the spread of the disease, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced yesterday. The case is the first such lawsuit brought by a state, and it relies on a remarkable interpretation of federal law. Frank Morris reports for NPR.

The novel coronavirus has likely caused as many as 41,000 deaths in Britain, more than double the official figure of 17,337. The estimate, based on new data from the Office of National Statistics, includes deaths that have taken place outside hospitals. Chris Giles reports for the Financial Times. 

British lawmakers will return to “virtual parliament” this week for their first new session in the age of the coronavirus. Just 50 of the 650 members will be permitted into the chamber, kept apart by lines taped on the carpet to enforce social distancing rules; another 120 members will be allowed to participate remotely via teleconference; the rest will have to observe silently from home. Reuters reporting.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Three key takeaways from yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing are provided in an analysis by Amber Phillips for the Washington Post.

The coronavirus pandemic did not come out of nowhere – instead, the U.S. ignored numerous warnings from different reports and studies, the Washington Post editorial board argues. 

How technology can be used to combat the pandemic without creating a police state and a “Patriot Pathogen Act” is explained by David Ignatius for the Washington Post.

An explainer on President Trump’s plan to temporarily suspend legal immigration is provided by Reuters.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and NBC News.

INTELLIGENCE

The Senate Intelligence Committee have published a bipartisan report that reaffirms previous findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The new report is based on three years of investigations, and it confirms findings from 2017 intelligence community assessments (I.C.A.) on Russia. “The committee found no reason to dispute the intelligence community’s conclusions,” Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement, with Vice-Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) stating: “The I.C.A. correctly found the Russians interfered in our 2016 election to hurt Secretary Clinton and help the candidacy of Donald Trump. Our review of the highly classified I.C.A. and underlying intelligence found that this and other conclusions were well-supported.” Ellen Nakashima reports for the Washington Post. 

President Trump’s Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) Richard Grenell has responded to House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff’s (D-Calif.) criticisms of the proposed reorganization of the office. Following a letter Schiff sent to Grenell on April 7, the acting intelligence chief sent a letter Monday rebuking Schiff’s criticisms. He noted that recommendations from early studies called for reforms within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (O.D.N.I.) and that it was his “duty to listen to these O.D.N.I. career employees who have ideas on how to improve the work we do for the American people.” Grenell also called for Schiff to “think of the relationship between your committee and the [intelligence community] as that between the legislative and executive branches of government, rather than that between a hedge fund and a distressed asset, as your letter suggests.” Maggie Miller reports for The Hill. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The conflict in Yemen between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels has resulted in hundreds of people being killed this month alone, leaders from both sides confirmed yesterday. The continuing airstrikes follow an agreed cease-fire between the Saudi-led coalition and the rebels, with each blaming the other for violating the agreement. AP reporting.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) has said today that it has successfully launched the county’s first military satellite, which follows a number of unsuccessful launches. Previous attempts have been said by the U.S. to breach a U.N. Security Council resolution, although Iran argues their actions are peaceful and comply with international law. AFP reporting. 

The agreement to form a unity government in Israel between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz is described as a “dangerous, right-wing” coalition in an analysis by Linah Alsaafin for Al Jazeera.  

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)