The Early Edition: February 19, 2021

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

CORONAVIRUS

The White House pledges to contribute $4 billion to fund Covax, the global vaccine effort that the Trump administration rejected. President Biden is set to announce an initial $2 billion contribution at a Group of Seven meeting on Friday. The administration will release the remaining $2 billion over two years once other countries have followed through on their pledges. Bipartisan legislation passed last year made the funds available, but the Trump administration opted not to support the initiative. Emily Rauhala, Erin Cunningham and Adam Taylor report for the Washington Post.

New studies show Pfizer and Moderna vaccines effective against the U.K. variant of coronavirus but less effective against the South Africa variant, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Pfizer and BioNTech announced, in response to the research on South Africa, that they will move to develop a booster shot or updated vaccine. Erin Cunningham, Paulina Firozi and Meryl Kornfield report for the Washington Post.

Life expectancy in the United States drops by a full year, the largest drop since World War II.  Black Americans experienced the largest decline in life expectancy, followed by Hispanic Americans. The drop in life expectancy reflects both the bleak effect of the coronavirus as well as the pandemic’s unequal impact on Black and Hispanic Americans. An increase in drug overdoses also contributed. Sabrina Tavernise and Abby Goodnough reports for the New York Times

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK

Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that the January 6 Commission will “have to have subpoena power.” Her statement came in response to a reporter’s question at a press conference. In her opening remarks, Speaker Pelosi also suggested that the blueprint for the Commission is the 9/11 Commission, and said that she has asked “Republicans to see what suggestions they may have, because for this to work, it really has to be strongly bipartisan.” Tal Axelrod reports for The Hill.

Just Security has published a Chart comparing an earlier Republican bill and a Democratic bill to establish a January 6 Commission which shows that both are closely modeled on the 9/11 Commission including their duplicate provisions for subpoena power.

Six U.S. Capitol Police officers have been suspended and 29 others are under investigation for their actions on January 6, department spokesman John Stolnis stated. One of the suspended officers took a selfie with a member of the mob inside the Capitol, according to Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). Another donned a “Make America Great Again” hat and began to direct rioters around the building, Ryan said. Whitney Wild and Paul LeBlanc report for CNN.

IMMIGRATION

The Biden administration announced temporary restrictions on ICE deportation practices. The new instructions (contained in a 7-page memorandum) limit the causes agents can invoke to initiate deportation, including the scope of criminal convictions considered a public safety threat. The guidelines still allow deportation of individuals deemed a national security threat due to terrorism or espionage or who illegally crossed the U.S. border after Nov. 1, 2020. The new restrictions will remain in effect for 90 days pending ICE’s development of long-term guidelines. Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill.

Democrats unveil President Biden’s immigration bill — including a eight-year pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants — but it “faces dim prospects for becoming law,” Politico reports. The bill would also expand the number of available diversity visas, and direct more funding to immigration courts and technology. “White House officials wouldn’t say if Biden is considering passing elements of immigration reform through a second budget reconciliation process later this year,” while sources close to the White House said Biden is also open to passing smaller piecemeal items which would be more likely to get 60 votes in the Senate, write Laura Barrón-Lopez, Heather Caygle, and Anita Kumar for Politico

MIDDLE EAST

The Biden Administration offers to join European countries in restarting nuclear talks with Iran. In a call with European foreign ministers on Thursday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the United States would seek to restore the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran. The administration also withdrew a demand that the Trump administration issued for the U.N. Security Council to enforce international sanctions against Iran. “Nearly every other nation had rejected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence at the time that the United States could invoke the so-called snap back sanctions because Washington was no longer a part of the accord,” Lara Jakes, Michael Crowley and David E. Sanger report for the New York Times.  

Top Biden aides internally debate whether to rejoin the original Iran nuclear deal or seek other agreements, according to Politico citing five people familiar with the discussions. “One internal administration debate about the next steps has largely boiled down to this: Whether to aim for a return to the original nuclear deal first or seek a broader deal from the start. A broader deal could possibly include non-nuclear aspects, such as limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program, and have provisions that last longer than the original deal or are permanent.” A senior Biden administration official, however, told Politico that the internal debate has passed and that the agreed-upon goal remains to return to the original nuclear deal if Iran complies with it, Nahal Toosi reports for Politico.

The U.S. intelligence report on Khashoggi killing is set to be made public as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter. When asked during her confirmation hearing by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) whether she would release the report, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines replied, “Yes, Senator. Actually, we’ll follow the law.” Even without that commitment, litigation to compel release of the government document under the Freedom of Information Act has been moving rapidly through federal court, Karen DeYoung reports for the Washington Post.

SOCIAL MEDIA REGULATION

House lawmakers to grill Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs on March 25, alongside efforts to crack down on disinformation and antitrust. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on March 25 with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. A focus on the hearing includes the spread of disinformation about the coronavirus and also will potentially address political disinformation that led up to the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee announced it would begin legislative hearings next week to examine potential anticompetitive behavior, including the extent to which companies use social networks, app stores and other services as chokepoints against competitors, reports Tony Romm for the Washington Post.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he has received support from world leaders after Facebook blacked out news media on its platform. The company took the drastic action in response to pending legislation in Australia that would require Facebook to pay news organizations for content displayed on the social media platform. Morrison cited support from Canada, France, India, and the United Kingdom. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said late on Thursday that his country would adopt the Australian approach as it drafts its own legislation. Byron Kaye reports for Reuters. See also “Facebook’s brazen attempt to crush regulations in Australia may backfire,” by Elizabeth Dwoskin and Gerrit De Vynck in the Washington Post.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a company spokesperson stated. Professor Rebecca Hamilton wrote in Just Security, “there was no obligation for Facebook to ‘respect’ a proposed piece of legislation. It was simply a choice on their part to implement their blackout in this way.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

FEMA sends supplies to Texas amid power outages, and Biden approves new disaster declarations for Oklahoma and Louisiana. Homeland security adviser and deputy national security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters that FEMA has supplied ”60 generators and fuel available to support critical sites like hospitals and water facilities” as well as “729,000 liters of water, more than 10,000 wool blankets, 50,000 cotton blankets, and 225,000 meals.” Biden also approved disaster declarations for Oklahoma and Louisiana on Thursday. Morgan Chalfant reports for The Hill.

In the criminal investigation of Donald Trump, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has enlisted former prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, who has deep experience investigating and defending white-collar and organized crime cases, according to several people with knowledge of the matter. “Despite the burst of investigative activity, prosecutors have said the tax returns and other financial records are vital to their inquiry — and the Supreme Court has delayed a final decision for months,” report William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich for the New York Times

The Supreme Court’s inaction on emergency filings related to a Manhattan grand jury’s subpoena of Trump tax returns marks an extraordinary departure, reports Joan Biskupic for CNN.

House Democrats and White House split over lawsuit to compel testimony of Trump White House Counsel Donald McGahn. White House lawyers are concerned about establishing a precedent that Congress might someday use to compel them to testify. The Justice Department asked an appeals court to delay arguments in the case saying that “the new administration wishes to explore whether an accommodation might be available with respect to the committee’s request” and “discussions among the relevant parties have begun.” Douglas N. Letter, a lawyer for House Democrats opposed the government’s motion, but the court granted it on Thursday ordering the delivery of a “status report advising the court of the progress of the parties’ discussion” by March 25. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times. 

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