The Early Edition: July 15, 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.   

US DEVELOPMENTS

President Trump’s administration yesterday halted its new visa plans that would have required international students to leave the US if they were enrolled onto an online course, a plan that had received much criticism and backlash. Under the then proposed policy, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) introduced on July 6, foreign students were to be banned from remaining in America if none of their classes in the fall were to be delivered face-to-face, which led to The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University filing a lawsuit against the government. During a hearing in a federal court in Boston, in which the lawsuit was to be addressed, U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs confirmed: “The government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020, policy directive and the frequently asked questions, the FAQ’s, that were released the next day on July 7,” according to a transcript of the hearing, further adding: “They have also agreed to rescind any implementation of the directive.” Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga report for the Washington Post.

GOP House lawmakers have pushed an amendment to the annual defense bill that would remove authorization from US troops in Afghanistan by altering the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment, proposed by the House Freedom Caucus, would: rescind the Authorization for Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) under the N.D.A.A.; require the Pentagon to devise a plan for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan; promote independence in the region by withdrawing U.S. involvement in reconciliation processes and elections; and offer a $2,500 bonus to troops deployed in the country. Juliegrace Brufke report for The Hill.

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved its $694.6 billion defense spending bill for its 2021 fiscal year. The bill would apportion $626.2 billion for base budget funding and $68.4 billion for its Overseas Contingency Operations (O.C.O.) account. The money would be used to: increase troops pay by 3 percent; build 91 F-35 fighter jets and nine Navy ships; prohibit funding from the Pentagon for the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico; and pay for army bases names after Confederate leaders to be renamed. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The House Appropriations Committee also approved three amendments intended to limit a president’s war making power. The amendments, put forward by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), intend to: repeal both the 2001 and 2002 A.U.M.F.; prohibit funding for military action against Iran, unless Congress explicitly approve. Repealing the 2001 A.U.M.F. and defunding of Iran military missions were approved in a 30-22 vote, while the 2002 A.U.M.F. was approved in voice note. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

US troops have been withdrawn from five military bases in Afghanistan and reduced their numbers in the region, the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) announced yesterday. Pentagon chief spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement: “U.S. forces in Afghanistan remain in the mid-8,000s and five bases formerly occupied by U.S. forces have been transferred to our Afghan partners … We maintain the capabilities and authorities necessary to protect ourselves, our Allies and partners, and US national interests.” He added: “We will continue to execute our counterterrorism mission while simultaneously supporting the 38-nation NATO Resolute Support Train, Advise, Assist mission and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as they work to secure peace in the country.” Justin Wise reports for The Hill.

Trump plans to appoint former aide Sebastian Gorka to a board that oversees the National Security Education Program, which was founded to help form a conducive and productive relationship between the national security and higher education communities, the White House confirmed yesterday. Gorka will serve for a term of four years alongside 14 other members. Olivia Beavers reports for The Hill.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that she would lift a hold on over 1,000 senior military promotions because the D.O.D. has assured her that it did not block the promotion of Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, one of the main witnesses in the impeachment proceedings against Trump. Duckworth, who put promotions on hold earlier this month and requested Defense Secretary Mike Esper to confirm Vindman would be advanced to full colonel, confirmed in a statement yesterday that the hold will be lifted: “Donald Trump’s unprecedented efforts to further politicize our military by retaliating against Lt. Col. Vindman—for doing his patriotic duty of telling the truth under oath—are unconscionable … I’m glad the Department of Defense was finally able to set the record straight that Vindman had earned and was set to receive a promotion to Colonel.” Scott Neuman reports for NPR.

Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins was yesterday charged with three felony counts of voter fraud after allegedly voting illegally in the 2019 local elections. Watkins reportedly registered his home address at a UPS store and voted in the wrong city council district. According to Shawnee County court records, Watkins was charged due to:  “Interference with a law enforcement officer, falsely report a felony intending to obstruct; voting without being qualified; and knowingly mark/transmit more than one advance ballot.” Watkins has dismissed the charges as politically motivated. John Bresnahan and Ally Mutnick report for POLITICO.

RACIAL INJUSTICE AND POLICE REFORM 

President Trump yesterday downplayed police violence and the deaths of black Americans after claiming that more white people die at the hands of law enforcement. During an interview with CBS News, Trump, responding to the question: “Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?,” said, “What a terrible question to ask … So are white people. More white people, by the way.” He also defended the Confederate flag, which has attracted a lot of criticism recently, stating: “I know people that like the Confederate flag, and they’re not thinking about slavery … I look at NASCAR. You go to NASCAR. You had those flags all over the place. They stopped it. I just think it’s freedom of speech, whether it’s Confederate flags or Black Lives Matter or anything else you want to talk about. It’s freedom of speech.” Maegan Vazquez reports for CNN.

The lawyers of George Floyd, the black man who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for over 8 minutes, will file a civil lawsuit against the city and its police officers today, the lawyers confirmed in a statement. No details of the lawsuit have been disclosed yet, but it is expected that Floyd’s lawyers, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, will reveal its content via a news conference today. Reuters reporting.

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday put forward its $71.4 billion Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill for its fiscal 2021 which includes a raft of police reforms; however, they are unlikely to make it through the GOP-majority Senate. The bill would addresss police violence and racial discrimination in the justice system and would stop funding to any police department that refused to implement reforms on banning chokeholds. It would also fund a National Task Force on Law Enforcement Oversight and a national police misconduct database, which Democrats have for some time pushed for. Niv Elis reports for The Hill.

Americans from across the political and ideological spectrum agree on police reforms that have created divisions and a lack of consensus within government, a poll from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy revealed. The university data shows that a majority of voters support at least 10 main policies proposed by competing bills in the House and Senate. The most popular reform proposals were that all officers should wear body cams and that officers should intervene if they think another officer is using disproportionate force. There was also much support for a police misconduct national database. Nolan D. McCaskill reports for POLITICO.

The University of Mississippi yesterday removed a Confederate monument on its campus. Students and staff have long requested the monument to be removed, but no action was taken until now, two weeks after the state of Mississippi removed the Confederate battle emblem from its flag – the last state to do so. Al Jazeera reporting.

Defending the police “is a brilliant idea—in theory. It is an understandable, emotional reaction to the dramatic events of black people being killed by police; emotions that were felt by millions of people around the world. It is now time to think through how to translate this emotion into effective policy,” writes Roland Fryer, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, for The Economist. He goes on to offer thought-provoking alternatives to the defunding rhetoric.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) offers his thoughts on racial injustice and its genesis, and provides a revitalized look at racial income inequality and its effects on injustice, whilst speaking in an interview with The Economist.

US-CHINA RELATIONS

President Trump said yesterday that he has signed legislation that will impose mandatory sanctions on individuals and businesses that assist China in restricting Hong Kong’s autonomy and that he has also signed an executive order that will now treat the once autonomous region the same as mainland China. The legislation for sanctions, which was sponsored by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), was approved by Congress earlier this month. Lauren Egan reports for NBC News.

China today warned that it would impose retaliatory sanctions on the US, with the country’s ministry of foreign affairs stating: “U.S. efforts to thwart the implementation of Hong Kong’s national security will never succeed. In order to defend its own legitimate interests, China will respond as necessary and impose sanctions on the relevant American individuals and entities,” adding, “We urge the US to correct its mistakes. If the US stubbornly pursues this path, China will give a firm response.” Helen Davidson reports for The Guardian.

CORONAVIRUS

More than 13.3 million cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded worldwide, including over 578,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. There are now over 3.43 million coronavirus infections in the United States and over 136,000 Covid-19 related deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

Hospitals have been instructed to, from today, no longer send coronavirus data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and should instead send it to a database in Washington, the Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.) announced yesterday in document on its website. The news has been criticized as an attempt to politicize data and circumvent transparency, although government officials contend that it will actually help streamline data and assist the White House’s coronavirus task force in allocating its supplies and resources. Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports for the New York Times.

Retired Gen. Joseph Dunford, the former chair of the joint chiefs of staff, has withdrawn himself from consideration to chair a coronavirus oversight panel tasked with managing the implementation of the March $500 million coronavirus relief fund, sources familiar with the situation confirmed. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

A coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, which is currently in its early-stages of being clinically trialed, has sparked an immune response in patients without any major side effects, scientists reported yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The trial, conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is testing on 45 people who were given vaccines in March and April. The vaccine is the first to be developed by a U.S. company to publish its clinical trial data. Zachary Brennan reports for POLITICO.

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. 

About the Author(s)

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)