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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.
The House Armed Services Committee yesterday unanimously approved the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The new version of the bill sees several important amendments, including: a requirement that the Pentagon must, within a year, rename bases or other property honoring Confederate figures; a ban on all Confederate battle flags on Pentagon property; an attempt to limit Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Germany; and a requirement that the administration make several certifications to Congress before withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. The panel, however, voted down an amendment to limit the president’s power under the Insurrection Act. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.
A New York court yesterday lifted a temporary restraining order against the publication of President Trump’s niece’s tell-all book, enabling her publisher, Simon and Schuster, to proceed with its plans to release the book at the end of July. The decision was given by Judge Alan D. Scheinkman, who ruled that the publishers were not party to a confidentiality agreement signed by Mary Trump, the president and his two siblings: “Unlike Ms. Trump … S&S has not agreed to surrender or relinquish any of its First Amendment rights,” Justice Scheinkman wrote. However, the key issue as to whether Mary has herself violated the agreement was not answered in the case, although Scheinkman did say that upon reading the book there may be a clear violation of the confidentiality agreement. Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer report for the New York Times.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has postponed today’s scheduled testimony of Brian Bulatao, the undersecretary of State for management, who was to testify before the panel in relation to the ousting of State Department Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick. J. Edward Moreno reports for the Hill.
Russia has been actively partnering with the Taliban and other groups inside Afghanistan in order to speed up the withdrawal of US troops from that country, according to a congressionally ordered Pentagon report released yesterday. While the American military has long accused Moscow of maintaining ties to the Taliban, the latest Pentagon assessment comes amid ongoing scrutiny about the Trump administration’ response to intelligence suggesting that Russian operatives had offered bounties to Taliban linked militants for killing U.S. and U.K. service members in Afghanistan. Ryan Browne, Jennifer Hansler and Michael Conte report for CNN.
Rahmatullah Azizi is the small-time businessman turned Afghan contractor who is central to US intelligence reports that found Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked groups to kill US troops.Security agencies attempted to make an arrest six months ago, but Azizi was no longer in Afghanistan, and was thought to be in Russia. Investigators did arrest several of his relatives and associates, and also found half a million dollars in cash at his Afghan home. “The target of the operation was Rahmat, who was going back and forth to Russia for a long time and said he worked there but no one knew what he did,” said Safiullah Amiry, the deputy head of Kunduz provincial council, adding: “From what I heard from security officials, the money had come from Russia through Rahmat.” Mujib Mashal, Eric Schmitt, Najim Rahim and Rukmini Callimachi report for the New York Times.
The White House does not plan on taking any immediate action on the intelligence reports as President Trump does not believe the reports are true or “actionable,” two senior administration officials confirmed, following posts on Twitter by Trump that stated: “just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party.” However, as growing pressure and concern mount from Congress, Trump may be forced to change his stance and pay more serious attention. Ellen Nakashima, Josh Dawsey, Karen DeYoung and Shane Harris report for the Washington Post.
Whether Trump was truly unaware of the intelligence reports is examined by Ken Dilanian, Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube for NBC News, who write: “The C.I.A. knew. The State Department knew. Senior congressional officials and the British government were briefed … So how could it be that nobody told the president?”
Trump’s “blind spot” on Russian President Vladimir Putin raises “not only major issues of American national security policy, but also the lives of American service members,” writes Jeff McCausland, retired U.S. Army colonel and former member of the National Security Council, for NBC News.
“Putin is replicating his success in Syria in a new theater of conflict – [Afghanistan] – and part of his plan is to hurt American interests once again,” Sajjan M. Gohel and Alison Bailey argue for Foreign Policy, adding: “Russia has been quietly working in the background to enhance its ties with the Taliban, with the purpose of expanding its strategic interests in Afghanistan.”
The US saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day yesterday, with over 52,000 fresh infections reported — bringing the nation’s confirmed total to just over 2.6 million. California, Georgia, Texas, Alaska, North Carolina and Arizona all hit daily records, while over 20 U.S. states have paused or rolled back reopening plans. Data collected by the Washington Post showed that those states that lifted quarantine rules and reopened first were leading the country in infection surges — along with California, the nation’s most populous state, where leaders have been more wary. Anne Gearan, Derek Hawkins and Siobhán O’Grady report for the Washington Post.
The global number of coronavirus cases now exceeds 10.7 million, including over 516,500 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.
The House yesterday unanimously approved an extension to the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) less than a day after the program aimed at helping small businesses survive the Covid-19 pandemic expired. The voice vote, which sends the bill to President Trump’s desk, came one day after the Senate passed the measure. Scott Neuman reports for NPR.
The UN Security Council yesterday repeated the Secretary-General’s appeal for a global ceasefire, to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has already claimed more than half a million lives. Unanimously adopting resolution 2532 (2020) yesterday, the 15-member peace and security body called for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations, on its agenda.” The U.N. chief hailed the long-awaited move, urging countries to “redouble their efforts for peace.” The U.N. News Centre reporting.
A Covid-19 vaccine produced by German biotech firm BioNTech and US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has shown promise and was generally well tolerated in early-stage human trials, the companies said yesterday. The drug is one of 17 being tested on humans in a frenzied global race to find a vaccine the world is counting on to end the pandemic. The possible treatment is the fourth early-stage Covid-19 drug to show potential in human testing, along with projects involving Moderna, CanSino Biologics and Inovio Pharmaceuticals. Reutersreporting.
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.
A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.
Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.
RACIAL INJUSTICE REFORMS
New York City legislators early yesterday voted to approve transferring one billion dollars from policing to education and social services in the coming year, acknowledging protesters’ demands to slash police spending — but falling short of what activists sought. Al Jazeera reporting.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled a new task force yesterday focused on protecting “American monuments, memorials and statues.” “D.H.S. is answering the President’s call to use our law enforcement personnel across the country to protect our historic landmarks,” said Chad Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security, in a press release. The Protecting American Communities Task Force will manage the D.H.S. response, which may include reviewing any potential unrest or deploying personnel, according to the press release. D.H.S. will also work with the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to share information, according to the release. Kristen Holmes and Geneva Sands report for CNN.
Senate Republicans were unruffled yesterday by President Trump’s threat to veto the annual defense policy bill over his opposition to the renaming of U.S. military bases and other property honoring well-known Confederate figures. The responses from G.O.P. senators reflected a political reality this week as the Senate prepares to pass the National Defense Authorization Act: That the provision is unlikely to be removed from the final bill to appease the president. Andrew Desiderio and Marianne Levine report for POLITICO.
“Trump gave the Republicans in Congress a tough choice Tuesday night: vote to honor leaders of the Confederacy, or vote against him,” Jonathan Allen writes in an analysis for NBC News.
CHINA AND HONG KONG
The House yesterday passed a sanctions bill to punish China for forcing a harsh new security law on Hong Kong that was condemned by countries around the world. The House measure, which was approved unanimously, penalizes banks that do business with Chinese officials and was sent back to the Senate before it heads to President Trump. BBC News reporting.
China has said it will take countermeasures against Britain should it give residency to Hongkongers fleeing the strict new national security law, pledging that the U.K. would “bear all consequences.” Today, top Chinese officials said the U.K. had no right to grant residency to Hongkongers in response to Beijing inflicting a sweeping anti-sedition law on the territory. “China strongly condemns this and reserves the right to take further measures. The British side will bear all the consequences,” the foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said at a regular media briefing in Beijing. Lily Kuo and Patrick Wintour report for The Guardian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin won a controversial vote yesterday to amend the country’s constitution and reset his term limits, potentially enabling him to rule as president until 2036. Official results published by the Kremlin today, after all ballots had been counted, showed that nearly 78 percent of voters had endorsed the constitutional changes. Matthew Bodner reports for NBC News.
The Trump administration’s Syria policy “is working,” Jonathan Spyer argues for Foreign Policy, commenting, the regime of Bashar Assad “is cracking under the pressure of stalemate — just like the State Department planned.”
A Saudi-led coalition has begun a military operation against Yemen’s Houthi movement after it ramped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, Saudi state television reported yesterday. In Yemen, Houthi-run Al Masirah TV reported air strikes on the capital Sanaa, Marib, al-Jouf, al-Bayda, Hajjah and Saada provinces during the day and into the night. Reuters reporting.