—Rex Tillerson was confirmed to head the Department of State. More here
—President Trump took to Twitter to lambast an Obama-era deal with Australia that would send 1,250 refugees staying in Pacific island camps to the U.S. More here
—Members of Parliament voted 498-114 to grant Prime Minister Theresa May approval to trigger Brexit, a process to launch two years of talks with the European Union on the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
The tweet came soon after a report from The Washington Post that described an intense phone call on Saturday between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. After Trump reportedly ended the phone call only 25 minutes into a planned hour-long conversation, he said that “this was the worst call by far” he’s had with foreign leaders.
Violent Protests Against Milo Yiannopoulos Erupt at UC Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley campus is on lockdown after violent protests broke out in response to an event hosting alt-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos. As a result of the protests, the event was canceled and there’s a shelter-in-place order. Protesters started fires, threw rocks, and tore down barriers. In a statement on Facebook, Yiannopoulos, who serves as an editor at conservative website Breitbart, said he had to be evacuated from the campus. In his usual defiant tone, he continued by saying that “the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.” Police fired tear gas in the crowds, as well.
Dozens of Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Arrested
Police in North Dakota arrested 76 protesters on Wednesday demonstrating against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. The protesters, authorities say, refused to leave the “Last Child” camp set up on private land owned by the pipeline developer. Protesters say the land rightfully belongs to Native Americans. Police have made nearly 700 arrests in the last six months, as protesters continue to object to a proposed pipeline they say may contaminate the drinking water of the nearby Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The pipeline goes under a section of the Missouri River. On January 24, President Trump signed an executive order paving the way for the Army Corps of Engineers to approve the pipeline within days. The crude oil pipeline will cost $3.8 billion and span 1,200 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. Trump, in a recent executive order, also gave new hope to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada.
U.S. Military Confirms Civilians Were 'Likely Killed' in Yemen Raid
The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday that civilians were “likely killed” in a raid against al-Qaeda militants on Sunday in southern Yemen. William “Ryan” Owens, a Navy Seal, was also killed in the raid, becoming the first service member killed in combat during the Trump administration. Three other service members were injured. In a statement, the United States Central Command said the raid, which included heavy firefight, said that “casualties may include children.” Civilians, the U.S. military says, may have gotten “caught up in aerial gunfire,” which was called in when service members were “receiving fire from all sides.” Combatants, which included armed women, had small arms and grenades. The U.S. military, though, says they successfully obtained intelligence. Previous reports indicate that as many as 10 civilians and 14 militants may have been killed in the operation. On Wednesday afternoon, Trump visited Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to “honor the remains” of Owens.
Senate Confirms Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson was confirmed Wednesday to head the Department of State. The Senate voted largely on party lines, handing the 64-year-old former Exxon Mobil CEO a final vote of 56 to 43, well above the 51 votes he needed. Doubt over Tillerson’s confirmation was laid to rest last week after Florida Senator Marco Rubio pledged to support him despite some reservations. Still, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, “the vote was closer than for any secretary of state in decades, reflecting a polarized political environment that is playing out in the Capitol on a daily basis.”
U.K. MPs Criticize May Over Response to Trump's Travel Ban
British Prime Minister Theresa May faced harsh criticism Wednesday for her initial silence on President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim or predominately Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the opposition Labour Party, led the charge during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions, first quoting May’s previous commitment to “speak frankly” to Trump before asking, “What happened?” Other members of Parliament joined in. “The leaders of Canada and Germany were able to respond robustly,” Jonathan Reynolds, a Labour MP, said. “Your response was to jump on a plane as soon as possible and to hold his [Trump’s] hand.” In response, May said she did eventually release a statement on the executive order Saturday night, a day after it was signed, which read, in part: “[W]e do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking.” May also stressed the importance of the U.K. maintaining a close relationship with the United States, citing Trump’s commitment to NATO as an important outcome of her visit. This did little to quiet her detractors, who want her to strongly condemn both the U.S. president and his actions.
President Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Wednesday afternoon to “honor the returning remains” of a U.S. Navy Seal killed earlier this week, reports the Associated Press. William “Ryan” Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois, was the first combat casualty of Trump’s nascent presidency. He died in Yemen, in a raid targeting an al-Qaeda affiliate group called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Thirty other people were killed in the raid, including an 8-year-old American girl.
According to a White House pool report, first daughter Ivanka Trump traveled to Delaware with her father on Marine One, and for a brief time their destination was unknown. Trump had previously offered gratitude and condolences to Owens’ family. “The sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces, and the families they leave behind, are the backbone of the liberty we hold so dear as Americans, united in our pursuit of a safer nation and a freer world,” he said in a statement Sunday. Three of Owens’ fellow service members were wounded in the operation.
U.S. Says It's Putting Iran 'On Notice' for Missile Test
Michael Flynn, President Trump’s national-security adviser, said Wednesday the U.S. is “officially putting Iran on notice” for the Islamic republic’s recent missile test, as well as an attack on a Saudi vessel by Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. In a statement, which he read at the White House, Flynn said Iran’s missile launch violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231. In Yemen, a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran pits the Iran-backed rebels against the Saudi military and its allies. Flynn said the Obama administration had “failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions,” and cited President Trump’s view that the nuclear deal struck between Iran and global powers, including the U.S., was “weak and ineffective.” It’s unclear what Iran being put “on notice” means. Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said the comment meant “We aren't going to sit by and not act on those actions.”
UPDATE: Israel to Build First New Settlement in 20 Years
Updated at 1:52 p.m.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has established a panel to build an entirely new settlement in the West Bank—the first in more than two decades—to house those evicted from the Amona outpost, which the Israeli Supreme Court labeled illegal because it was set up on private Palestinian land. Haaretz reported that the panel would include representatives of Amona's residents, the Israeli defense minister’s adviser on settlements, and the chief of staff of the Prime Minister's Office. It’s unclear where the new settlement would be built. The announcement, which is likely to prove controversial, came after Israel announced late Tuesday it’s building 3,000 new homes in the occupied West Bank. The dismantling of the Amona settlement, which is also in the West Bank, was been met with protests by Jewish settlers who believe the West Bank and Gaza, which they refer to by their biblical names, Judea and Samaria, belongs to them in their entirety. Palestinians, who control Gaza and much of the West Bank, want the areas to be part of a future state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem. The Israeli government’s announcement comes just days after Israel approved 2,500 new homes in the West Bank and 550 units in east Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem, the settlements on occupied land, and the contours of a future Palestinian state are all subject to negotiations between Israel and Palestinians as part of the two-state solution. But those talks have been dormant for years, the peace process itself is all but dead, and the Israeli government now has a sympathetic ally in the White House, making a resumption of negotiations appear unlikely.
As Cease-Fire Violations Flare, NATO Chief Urges Calm in Eastern Ukraine
Updated at 3:02 p.m. ET
NATO’s chief says there have been more than 5,600 violations of the fragile cease-fire in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are battling the Ukrainian government. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, called it the “most serious spike in violations in a long time.” He urged Russia to use its influence with the rebels to reduce tensions, and urged the sides to abide by the Minsk agreement, which was signed in September 2014 to stop the fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region. The fighting has prompted Ukrainian authorities to prepare to evacuate the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, which is now without water or electricity. The town has come under heavy shelling from the rebels, leading to civilian casualties. In Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said the escalation is “probably just another reason for a swift resumption of a dialogue and cooperation between Russia and the United States.” Relations between the two countries had been frosty after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, but President Trump has said he’s willing to work with Russia and has previously praised its leader, Vladimir Putin. Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said Wednesday: “The president has been kept aware ... of what's going on in Ukraine.”
900 State Department Officials Reported to Have Signed Dissent Memo
Nine-hundred officials at the U.S. State Department have reportedly signed a memo that protests President Trump’s executive order on immigration. The order stops travelers from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days; stops all refugees from entering for 120 days; and bars all Syrian refugees from coming until further notice. Trump says the order is meant to keep the U.S. safe from potential terrorists. As I reported Monday, the memo signed by the State Department officials questions the order’s effectiveness, adding “this ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold.” The memo, Reuters reported, has been submitted to Tom Shannon, the acting secretary of state, through the State Department’s “dissent channel,” which was established in 1971 during the Vietnam War as a venue for diplomats to freely express their concerns with U.S. policy, and has been used frequently since then to express opposition to an administration’s policies. When asked Monday about the memo, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said of the officials who signed it: “They should get with the program or they should go.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to 'Personally Reimburse' Her Trip to Syria
Representative Tulsi Gabbard said she will “personally reimburse” the cost of her trip to Syria last month, which included a visit with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In a statement Tuesday, the Hawaii congresswoman said she would repay the Cleveland-based Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS-Ohio) for the cost of the trip “because it became a distraction,” adding she is “beholden to no one in the region, her views on the situation are her own, and her determination to seek peace is beyond question." The trip caused controversy after Gabbard revealed she met with Assad. Gabbard said the meeting was unplanned. Still, it could constitute a violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. lawmakers from meeting with foreign governments that are in dispute with the U.S., like the longtime Syrian leader. (No one has ever been prosecuted under the law.) Gabbard did not reveal how much the trip cost—only that it was financed by Bassam and Elie Khawam, AACCESS members who organized several trips to Syria for former Representative Dennis Kucinich. AACCESS has been linked to the Assad government and a controversial Syrian political party—charges Bassam Khawam has denied in an interview with The Atlantic.
Members of Parliament voted 498-114 Wednesday to grant Prime Minister Theresa May approval to trigger Brexit, a process to launch two years of talks with the European Union on the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc. The approval came despite vocal opposition from some MPs from the Labour Party, who defied their leadership with the vote, as well as from the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. May’s Conservatives voted in favor. May is expected to unveil her strategy for Brexit on Thursday. Britons voted last summer to withdraw from the EU, but the country’s Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say before Article 50 of the Lisbon Charter, the formal trigger for Brexit, is invoked.
I can go just about anywhere with my German passport. But almost no one wants to let in Americans these days.
Becoming a United States citizen was meaningful to me for a great number of reasons. German by birth, I had come to feel at home in America, and to love it. For all the deep injustices that shape this country, I remained convinced that the United States was more likely than just about any other place in the world to build a thriving, diverse democracy. And when I wrote about the danger that right-wing populists like Donald Trump pose to the American republic, I cherished being able to speak about his assault on our, as opposed to your, values and institutions.
Alongside all these serious reasons, I also had a very practical one: the power of the U.S. passport. It granted access to just about everywhere, and escape from just about anywhere. Which country—Germany or the United States—would be more likely to rescue me if I got stuck in some foreign country in the middle of a perilous political crisis? Would the last plane to evacuate foreigners from Chad or Chile or Canada before that country devolved into civil war be sent by the Bundeswehr or the U.S. Air Force?
The U.S. has never had enough coronavirus tests. Now a group of epidemiologists, economists, and dreamers is plotting a new strategy to defeat the virus, even before a vaccine is found.
Michael Mina is a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, where he studies the diagnostic testing of infectious diseases. He has watched, with disgust and disbelief, as the United States has struggled for months to obtain enough tests to fight the coronavirus. In January, he assured a newspaper reporter that he had “absolute faith” in the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contain the virus. By early March, that conviction was in crisis. “The incompetence has really exceeded what anyone would expect,” he told The New York Times. His astonishment has only intensified since.
Many Americans may understand that testing has failed in this country—that it has been inadequate, in one form or another, since February. What they may not understand is that it is failing, now. In each of the past two weeks, and for the first time since the pandemic began, the country performed fewer COVID-19 tests than it did in the week prior. The system is deteriorating.
Social gatherings provoke moral indignation—but bringing in law enforcement will promote injustice, not reduce infections.
State and local officials across the country are unleashing a new weapon in America’s war against the coronavirus: the cops. Citing parties as the cause of recent clusters of infections in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker recently authorized state and local police to crack down on public and private gatherings that violate social-distancing guidelines. The sheriff’s office in New York City took on new coronavirus duties, including the enforcement of party bans. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city will shut off power and water to residences where large gatherings take place, and the county public-health department, in what it described as a “legally binding order,” declared that party hosts will be subject to fines, imprisonment, or both.
The president has dramatically accelerated the pace of his efforts to weaponize the federal government to his advantage.
President Donald Trump’s open admission yesterday that he’s sabotaging the Postal Service to improve his election prospects crystallizes a much larger dynamic: He’s waging an unprecedented campaign to weaponize virtually every component of the federal government to partisan advantage.
Trump is systematically enlisting agencies, including the Postal Service, Census Bureau, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, that traditionally have been considered at least somewhat insulated from political machinations to reward his allies and punish those he considers his enemies. He is razing barriers between his personal and political interests and the core operations of the federal government to an extent that no president has previously attempted, a wide range of public-administration experts have told me.
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
Communities that worked hard to beat the coronavirus should reap the benefits of doing so.
Because the coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in much of the country, not every school district can bring children and teachers back safely and equitably this fall. But among those that can is Somerville, Massachusetts—the city of about 80,000 just northwest of Boston where my family and I live. After a biotech conference in late February spread the coronavirus in the Boston area, public officials in Somerville reacted quickly. The city shut down bars and required masks before most other communities did. Residents stayed home. Playgrounds closed. “Avoid playdates,” urged Mayor Joe Curtatone, a progressive who prides himself on making data-driven decisions about the problems that test the city and its residents. We knew our children felt lonely and confused, and still we buckled down.
Biden’s running mate is two decades younger than he is; the potential vice presidency seems like merely a first step.
If Joe Biden is elected in November, his presidency will likely be defined by history-shaping decisions made after long, deliberative, some might say operatic processes. Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate—the first woman of color to appear on a major-party ticket—was precisely that sort of careful, drawn-out decision.
Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, says that Biden’s selection of a Black woman with Indian and Jamaican parents shows that Biden is running a very different campaign than Donald Trump. “In the selection of a vice president, he’s created a deep contrast between the pettiest of men and a man who obviously has no pettiness within him,” Tanden told me, minutes after Harris was announced.
Zvikorn, whose bio on the site describes an Israeli teen into sports history, has made more than 2,300 edits to Wikipedia articles over the past few years. “The main reason I edit Wikipedia is a strong belief that every person on the planet has the right to access the accumulated knowledge of humanity,” he wrote. “Today it is only getting more important for mankind to find out the truth and not be exposed to believe fake news.”
Polished, soft-spoken, and a self-styled moderate, Jared Kushner has become his father-in-law’s most dangerous enabler.
Jared Kushner, the second-most-powerful man in the White House, is quite a bit smarter than the most powerful man, his father-in-law, the president. Donald Trump possesses a genius for the jugular, but he evinces few other signs of intelligence. He certainly displays no capacity, or predisposition, to learn. His son-in-law, by contrast, appears to have sufficient analytic acumen to comprehend that the country has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic. Kushner might not be the brightest public servant in American history—he is a Harvard graduate who is also a leading symbol of college-admissions corruption, and a businessman with a substantial record of failure—but he has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time at the White House. Because he projects a facsimile of capability and because he shows, at irregular intervals, a seemingly genuine interest in governing, he is also an exasperating mystery.
No matter what Trump says, the USPS has the money and the capacity to handle a huge surge in mail-in ballots. But new restrictions could disrupt the election.
President Donald Trump and his allies might well succeed in undermining the United States Postal Service’s ability to handle an expected surge in mail-in ballots this fall. But the biggest immediate threat to voting by mail isn’t blocked funding.
Trump acknowledged yesterday that he opposes a major stimulus deal with Democrats in part because he wants to stop an infusion of $25 billion to the Postal Service ahead of the election. “They need that money in order for the Post Office to work, to take in these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo. But the president doesn’t want more voting by mail, and he doesn’t want the Postal Service to have any more money to help with it. “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. That means they can’t have it.”