—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.
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.
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.”
The first daughter (though not the only daughter), wearing a fitted black mockneck and black pants, her golden hair fastened in a low twist, glided across the Oval Office. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was apparently vital to inform Trump, at that very moment, that Siemens had pledged to expand its education and training opportunities to more workers as part of Ivanka’s workforce-development initiative. She also wanted to remind him that tomorrow would be the inaugural session of the program’s advisory board, and that Tim Cook would be joining the meeting.
The pandemic is bringing the sport face-to-face with its deepest flaws.
This week, the bottom fell out of college football. The future of the fall season had been wavering for more than a month as the coronavirus continued to burn through much of the United States, and on Tuesday, the Big 10, the conference that comprises the Midwest’s major football programs, was the first to topple. It canceled its fall season, and a few hours later, the Pac-12, which represents major programs on the West Coast, made the same call.
Forgive me for trying to put these cancellations in their bizarrely complicated context. The Big 10 and Pac-12 are two of the five regional conferences that make up college football’s top tier as the Power 5, which together play for the sport’s most prestigious, but certainly not its only, national championship. (Central Florida fans, please don’t email me.) The schools of the SEC, Big 12, and ACC, which cover the Southeast, Great Plains, and East Coast, respectively, are moving ahead with football for now, game schedules redrawn.
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.
WhatsApp diplomacy seems to have worked for the Trump administration.
This morning, Donald Trump announced the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel is also committing to not annexing the West Bank. The agreement will shock those who thought the portion of the Jared Kushner portfolio devoted to peace in the Middle East consisted of a single briefing folder filled with printouts of Wikipedia articles. But there were signs that this agreement was coming, and that the Trump administration would be uniquely suited to making it happen.
Saudi Arabia is not officially party to the agreement, but its relationship with the UAE is so fraternal that we should assume that it eagerly approved, and that the UAE will represent its interests in Israel as if they were its own. The Trump administration deals with these countries through the same personal channels, which look opaque and corrupt to us because they are. A few months ago, a Saudi academic told me that Trump was easier for him to understand than for me, because I live in a country where nepotism is a crime, and he lives in one where it is the system of government. The idea that a president would appoint his son-in-law to manage the most sensitive aspects of his administration offends me. To a Saudi, he said, it is just how things get done, and there is nothing mysterious about it at all.
People are power scrubbing their way to a false sense of security.
As a COVID-19 summer surge sweeps the country, deep cleans are all the rage.
National restaurants such as Applebee’s are deputizing sanitation czars to oversee the constant scrubbing of window ledges, menus, and high chairs. The gym chain Planet Fitness is boasting in ads that “there’s no surface we won’t sanitize, no machine we won’t scrub.” New York City is shutting down its subway system every night, for the first time in its 116-year history, to blast the seats, walls, and poles with a variety of antiseptic weaponry, including electrostatic disinfectant sprays. And in Wauchula, Florida, the local government gave one resident permission to spray the town with hydrogen peroxide as he saw fit. “I think every city in the damn United States needs to be doing it," he said.
Why having a woman vice-presidential candidate is historic—and painful for young feminists
The morning before Kamala Harris became the Democratic nominee for vice president, I met Amanda Litman at the Javits Center in New York City, a mammoth building near the Hudson River made almost entirely of glass. Four years ago, Litman spent Election Night here, waiting excitedly in a holding area with other staffers on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The intended metaphor was not subtle: Clinton was to declare her victory as America’s first woman president beneath a literal glass ceiling, shattering the most notorious gender barrier in politics.
When Clinton lost, Litman, who served as Clinton’s email director, felt more than just professional defeat. She believed the election was about proving that a woman similar to herself—often described as too ambitious, too much, or too loud—could succeed in America. “If you had asked me the next morning, ‘Will we ever have a woman president?’ I would have stopped crying hard enough to tell you to fuck off,” Litman told me. “It felt unimaginable.”
Short of an outright constitutional crisis, a lot could still go horribly wrong.
A brazen refusal by the president to leave office is surely a nightmare scenario. But even if President Donald Trump were to lose and accept the results on November 3 or soon thereafter, he could nevertheless wreak significant damage during the period between the election and the inauguration of Joe Biden—endangering the incoming administration, at best, and actively sabotaging it, at worst.
Presidential transitions are perilous even in normal times. With each inauguration of a new president every four to eight years, the executive branch undergoes a massive overhaul; more than 4,000 new political appointees flood into federal departments and agencies, including 1,200 senior officials who require Senate confirmation. The minute a new president is sworn in, his administration assumes responsibility for everything from nuclear launch codes to pandemic response, economic policy, and counterterrorism—at the very moment when the government’s capacity is most diminished. At the Defense Department alone, the nation’s largest employer and perhaps the world’s most complex organization, the top 59 senior civilian leaders, from the secretary of defense on down, are political appointees requiring Senate confirmation. A private-sector company would be crazy to emulate this approach, yet the security, the health, and the prosperity of Americans depend on its success.
A virus has brought the world’s most powerful country to its knees.
How did it come to this? A virus a thousand times smaller than a dust mote has humbled and humiliated the planet’s most powerful nation. America has failed to protect its people, leaving them with illness and financial ruin. It has lost its status as a global leader. It has careened between inaction and ineptitude. The breadth and magnitude of its errors are difficult, in the moment, to truly fathom.
In the first half of 2020, SARS‑CoV‑2—the new coronavirus behind the disease COVID‑19—infected 10 million people around the world and killed about half a million.