Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

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In this Jan. 4, 2020, file photo a sign for at Fort Bragg, N.C., is shown. A warrant officer stationed at Ft. Bragg was convicted in a civilian court of sexual abuse of a minor, but must be additionally convicted … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday issued a blistering threat to veto the House’s version of the massive 2021 defense policy bill if it contains language that would rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

The veto threat, which also attacked provisions to curb the president’s plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan and Germany, came as lawmakers in both the House and Senate moved toward approving their separate versions of the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending standards for the coming year.

On a 295-125 vote, the Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday evening approved its version of the NDAA, which includes a provision that would mandate the names of 12 military bases that are named for Confederate leaders within one year. The bill, which includes a 3% pay raise for military personnel, attracted enough support to theoretically override a presidential veto, including more than 100 House Republicans.

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The Senate’s version of the bill, which is expected to be voted on this week, includes similar language but would mandate the change over the period of three years.

The name change attracted some Republican support in both chambers.

“If [the House NDAA] were presented to the president in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it,” said the 13-page memo addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the must-pass legislation if it contains provisions to rename the military bases. His latest veto threat applies heightened pressure to congressional Republicans, many of whom have already backed amendments to implement the changes.

The White House has not yet issued a formal threat to veto the Republican-led Senate’s version of the NDAA.

“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the memo said.

Calls for the military to confront racism within its ranks were sparked following George Floyd’s death, a Black man who died in police custody. Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week announced an effective ban on the display of Confederate flags at military facilities, but did so without mentioning the symbol by name.

Despite the political firestorm, Mr. Trump could point to a nationwide poll released Tuesday found that half of Americans do not support renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

Fifty percent of U.S. adults said they are against renaming military bases named after Confederate generals, and 42% said they support it, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling. By a 52% to 43% margin, Americans also said they are against removing statues honoring Confederate generals from public places.

Mr. Trump argues that casting Confederate figures and symbols as racist is absurd, given that the sites have served as key training grounds for soldiers who went on to fight in World War II and other conflicts.

But lawmakers of both parties have backed efforts to rename North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Virginia’s Fort Lee and the other 10 Army installations that bear the names of Confederate figures. Republican members have introduced legislation to block the move, but the efforts have failed in both chambers.

Several prominent retired generals have also supported the move to rename bases, arguing that the Confederate figures not only supported the slave states, but that they had tried to destroy the United States.

In the veto threat, the Trump administration also cited bipartisan policy issues included in the House’s bill that seek to curtail Mr. Trump’s hopes of reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan and Germany, as well as limiting the amount of military funds that can be used for construction of a border wall with Mexico.

“[The White House] also has serious concerns about provisions of the bill that seek to micromanage aspects of the executive branch’s authority, impose highly prescriptive limitations on the use of funds for Afghanistan, and otherwise constrain the President’s authority to protect national security interests,” the Office of Management and Budget argued in the veto message.

“Many of these provisions would pose significant challenges to continued execution of the [National Defense Strategy].”

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

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German governors sent a letter to Congress to convince President Trump to back down from his plan to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from their country. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

German politicians representing areas where large numbers of American military personnel are based want Congress to force President Trump to back down on his plans to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

The troops represent the “backbone of the U.S. military presence in Europe and NATO’s ability to act,” the governors of Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate wrote in a letter sent recently to more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers.

Among those who received it were several influential Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is both a strong ally of President Trump and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Mitt Romney slams Germany troop withdrawal as ‘slap in the face’ to ally

While there was no immediate comment on the letter from Capitol Hill on Monday, several members of Congress have previously spoken out against Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan, including some prominent Republicans.

In June, Mr. Trump ordered the American troop presence in Germany to be reduced from about 34,500 to 25,00. The president has said he wanted the numbers reduced because Germany takes advantage of the U.S. in trade policy and won’t sufficiently invest in its own defense.

Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Trump has a point about Germany’s lack of defense spending. But, in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Coffey said such factors shouldn’t warrant a U.S. pullout.

“I think there are plenty of good reasons to keep U.S. forces in Europe. I would like to see them increased,” he said, asserting the U.S. military presence in Germany protects Americans interests in Europe by strengthening allies and deterring adversaries.

The letter from the German governors draws attention to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Grafenwoehr training area as constituting essential to the U.S. presence in Europe, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. Americans and Germans have worked together for decades to develop those structures, along with the headquarters for the U.S. European Command, the governors wrote.

“They provide the necessary foundation for a partnership-based contribution to peace in Europe and the world, to which we all share a common commitment,” they wrote. “We therefore ask you to support us as we strive not to sever the bond of friendship but to strengthen it and to secure the U.S. presence in Germany and Europe in the future.”

Domestic political considerations and the need to placate constituents is more likely at the center of the letter from the German chief ministers than geopolitical strategic concerns, said Mr. Coffey, who noted the loss of 10,000 well-paid American military personnel would be a major hit to the economies of the four German regions represented in the letter.

At the same time, Mr. Coffey argued such considerations also should not be a factor in weighing the strategic value of U.S. troops in Germany.

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent political foes, was one of the recipients of the letter. He was already firmly opposed to the president’s order — having called it a “gift to Russia” — and last month introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act aimed at blocking any serious withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Germany.

“In addition to undermining our NATO alliance, a withdrawal would present serious logistical challenges and prevent our military from performing routine military readiness exercises,” Mr. Romney said on introducing the measure.

Final details around Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan remain murky.

Pentagon officials have not indicated which troops would be moved and what their next location would be. Some are expected to be transferred east, possibly to Poland which has been constructing facilities in hope of an influx of American military personnel. Most are expected to move back to the U.S.

There is precedent, meanwhile, for foreign politicians to try and play the U.S. legislative and executive branches off each other on sensitive national security matters. In March 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to speak before a joint meeting of Congress in opposition to the Obama era Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some saw it as a breach of diplomatic and political protocol.

While the German politicians may be attempting a similar end run around the White House with their letter to U.S. lawmakers, Mr. Coffey said Mr. Trump may not even have been made aware of the attempt.

“I’m not even sure this will be raised to his level in terms of briefings,” Mr. Coffey said. “But if [German chancellor Angela Merkel] starts firing off letters to various senators and congressmen, that would change.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Qassem Soleimani deaths absent from Donald Trump campaign pitch

Trump’s top counterterrorism triumphs missing from campaign pitch

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President Donald Trump salutes as he arrives on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, as he returns from Springfield, Mo. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

President Trump’s two highest-profile counterterrorism victories have been largely absent from his reelection pitch, a departure from recent elections in which the winning candidate made a prominent case for fortitude in battling jihadis.

Unlike President George W. Bush, who ran for reelection during his war on terror, or President Obama, who made the raid that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden a cornerstone of his 2012 campaign, Mr. Trump and his team have yet to fully capitalize on the president’s successes against terrorism.

Neither the mission in October that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nor the January strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been given significant attention in Mr. Trump’s battle with presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.

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The successful operations, which eliminated two of the world’s most powerful and dangerous terrorist leaders and seemingly offer powerful ammunition for a commander in chief who prides himself on strength, have been mostly missing from Mr. Trump’s recent speeches. His campaign also hasn’t made them the focus of a major concerted advertising blitz in the way political observers might expect.

Analysts say there are several reasons why. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic free fall, as well as recent racial justice protests, have consumed so much political space that there is little room for foreign policy on the campaign trail let alone a serious appetite among voters to hear about it.

But political insiders say other factors are also at play. They say a more aggressive pitch on the president’s counterterrorism successes could backfire.

One concern is that the deaths of al-Baghdadi and Soleimani, while important victories in the fight against extremism, wouldn’t have the same emotional impact among voters as bin Laden’s demise.

“President Trump has had many foreign policy successes to advertise, though admittedly it’s hard to compare killing terrorist leaders who aren’t household names with the man responsible for 9/11 attacks,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Trump campaign national security adviser and Pentagon spokesman.

“Another complicating factor in getting that positive message out is that since many of our 2016 campaign advisers were framed as Russian agents by the #Resistance, including Democrats in Congress and legacy media, it could be safer for the current campaign to avoid foreign policy altogether,” he said.

Foreign policy record

The Biden campaign and its liberal allies have been taking the foreign policy fight to Mr. Trump. They say the president has been soft on Russia, bungled relations with China, unnecessarily stoked tensions with Iran, abandoned American allies in Syria and made a host of other serious missteps.

The backdrop of the political attacks is broader turmoil inside the Trump campaign.

Last week, Bill Stepien was tapped as Mr. Trump’s new campaign manager in a seeming demotion for Brad Parscale.

Although campaign officials denied that Mr. Parscale had been punished or demoted, the development added to an appearance of internal upheaval at a moment of questionable polling numbers for the president.

Recent polls have shown Mr. Biden with a commanding lead over Mr. Trump nationally and in key battleground states.

One of the big questions heading into the campaign’s final three months centers on the extent to which Mr. Trump may or may not try to steer public attention toward his foreign policy record.

As it tries to regain its footing, the Trump campaign seems willing to fight over foreign policy when attacked. Top campaign officials are quick to contrast the president’s record with that of Mr. Biden, who served as vice president while the Islamic State rose to power in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama also oversaw the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted some economic sanctions on Tehran but, as critics assert, allowed millions of dollars to flow to Soleimani’s Quds Force and the various terrorist outfits it backs across the Middle East.

A matter of messaging

Trump campaign officials say they are aware of the president’s wins on counterterrorism and are prepared to tout them publicly within a wider narrative of national security success over the past four years.

“President Trump kept his promise to rebuild the American military after it was severely depleted under the Obama/Biden administration,” Ken Farnaso, the campaign’s deputy national press secretary, told The Washington Times. “And his ‘America First’ agenda has secured the elimination of two most-wanted terrorists, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani, the destruction of the ISIS caliphate, and sustained strong political and economic pressure on adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and Russia.”

The president and his surrogates have made those arguments, but there are key differences between the way the Trump campaign is handling the issue this year and how the Obama camp approached it in 2012.

Mr. Obama was reelected in the year after the raid that killed bin Laden, capping nearly a decade of searching for the man behind the 9/11 attacks. The Obama campaign team used the event as a sharp political weapon and suggested that Republican nominee Mitt Romney might not have ordered the mission as commander in chief.

The narrative proved effective in portraying Mr. Obama as a strong, decisive leader and blunting Republican efforts to once again cast a Democrat as weak on international affairs.

One of the more memorable campaign advertisements of 2012 featured former President Bill Clinton saying it was a momentous decision for Mr. Obama to order the assault on bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn’t been bin Laden. Suppose they’d been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him,” Mr. Clinton said in the commercial. “He took the harder and the more honorable path, and the one that produced, in my opinion, the best result.”

The ad then asked, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken,” before highlighting the Republican’s questioning about whether the U.S. should launch counterterrorism strikes in Pakistan or spend time and resources searching for a single terrorist leader.

Successes overshadowed

Mr. Trump has aired some memorable campaign commercials, but some political analysts say none has brought his counterterrorism achievements to the forefront the way the Bill Clinton ad did for Mr. Obama.

Some specialists also argue that there may be little the Trump campaign can do at this point to effectively capitalize on the al-Baghdadi and Soleimani operations.

Talking about the strikes or crafting multimillion-dollar ad campaigns to highlight foreign policy achievements of the past, they said, likely would turn off voters who are rightfully consumed with domestic crises playing out at the moment.

“When you have people dying at the numbers they’re dying at in the United States right now, the threat from international terrorism seems to pale by comparison,” said Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco who studies the intersection of politics and foreign policy.

“If Trump embraced that,” Mr. Zunes said, “it could even backfire.”

Trump joins Hagerty in tele-town hall as early voting begins

Trump joins Hagerty in tele-town hall as early voting begins

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks to supporters on Friday, July 17, 2020, after casting an early voting ballot at the Nashville Public Library Bellevue Branch in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise) more >

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By KIMBERLEE KRUESI

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – President Donald Trump on Friday once again threw support behind his former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, a Republican running in the primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.

Hagerty, 59, has frequently touted Trump’s endorsement ever since the president broke the news the former ambassador was running for political office nearly a year ago.

“I’ll never forget I went to Japan and he knew every person over there, he knew the businessmen, he could pronounce those names I had a hard time with,” Trump said in a tele-town hall with Hagerty. “I had a very hard time pronouncing those names.”

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Trump encouraged Tennesseans to vote early, warning that it was critical to elect senators in office who would vote in favor of the judges he appoints.

“Your Second Amendment is under siege. If I weren’t here I don’t think you would have a Second Amendment,” Trump added while praising Hagerty’s support of law enforcement. “You would certainly have a very weak one.”

Hagerty’s main opponent in the Senate primary is trauma surgeon Manny Sethi, who is also seeking the position being vacated by outgoing Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. The two candidates have recently increased attacks on one another as early voting kicked off Friday.

In a recent ad, Sethi attacked Hagerty’s past political donations to Republican Mitt Romney – the only Republican to vote to convict the president during his impeachment trial.

“Why is the establishment attacking a nice guy like me?” Sethi asks. “Well, folks are finding out that Bill Hagerty’s endorsed by Mitt Romney.”

Romney has not publicly endorsed Hagerty since the former ambassador joined the race, but Romney had previously supported the idea, according to the Wall Street Journal in mid-2019.

Meanwhile, Hagerty criticized Sethi in an ad as a “liberal elitist.”

“I volunteered full-time for six months when nobody else was supporting President Trump, certainly not Manny Sethi – didn’t lift a finger, didn’t donate a dime back in 2016 to help President Trump get elected,” Hagerty told The Associated Press on Friday.

Early voting ahead of the Aug. 6 primary will be open Monday through Saturday until Aug. 1.

For those who do not want to vote in person, a judge is giving all eligible voters the option to vote absentee during the pandemic. Absentee ballots can be requested until July 30. First-time voters can only vote absentee if they have shown ID at a county election office.

___

Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

Iranian dissidents rally for regime change in Tehran

Iranian dissidents rally for regime change in Tehran

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Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), waves the traditional Iranian flag as she prepares to speak at the “Free Iran Global Summit: Iran Rising Up for Freedom” on July 17. (Siavosh Hosseini/The Media Express) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Friday, July 17, 2020

Iran’s theocracy is at the weakest point of its four-decade history and facing unprecedented challenges from a courageous citizenry hungry for freedom, Iranian dissidents and prominent U.S. and European politicians said Friday at a major international rally calling for the downfall of the dictatorship in Tehran.

The annual “Free Iran Global Summit,” held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, brought together Iranian resistance groups and their allies around the world behind the common cause of pushing to replace Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime with a nonviolent democracy.

The summit — organized and hosted by the multinational umbrella organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its associate group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) — was something of a technical marvel, uniting via Zoom tens of thousands of participants from 102 countries and 30,000 separate locations around the world.

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Some Iranian resistance activists were even broadcasting into the summit from inside Iran at tremendous risk to their own safety, given the Khamenei regime’s history of violently cracking down on internal opposition.

Behind the logistical triumph was a simple message from the NCRI organizers that Iran’s clerics and terrorist sympathizers are living on borrowed time, facing unprecedented anger from within and crushing external pressure as the Trump administration’s financial sanctions campaign against Tehran continues to squeeze the Iranian economy.

“This generation is a constant nightmare for the mullahs. Indeed, the clerics have come face to face with a rebellious generation against which they are vulnerable,” acting NCRI President Maryam Rajavi said during a passionate address Friday morning. “Today in Iran, one of the greatest battles and one of the greatest tests of our time rages on between freedom and religious fascism, between democracy and religious fundamentalism. This is a battle intertwined with the destiny of contemporary humanity and global peace and security.”

Mrs. Rajavi delivered her address from the Ashraf-3 complex in Albania, which has become the headquarters of the movement and is home to MEK dissidents and resistance fighters dedicated to overthrowing an oppressive government that has ruled Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Leaders of the NCRI, which is comprised of multiple other organizations, say the council has seen its stature grow to the point that Iranian officials can no longer deny its influence.

The NCRI has many American supporters, including some with close relationships to Mr. Trump, such as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, one the president’s personal lawyers. They say the organization not only has galvanized tens of thousands of Iranians behind its cause but also has fashioned itself into something of a shadow government that could potentially step into power in Tehran if the regime falls.

“We know the truth and they know the truth: They know this organization is a total threat to them,” Mr. Giuliani said during a speech delivered to Friday’s virtual summit.

“When they see today, this gathering of people taking advantage of Zoom and the new modern methods of communication,” he said. “They realize they have a formidable foe. They realize and can foresee how this group could easily stand up an interim government that could be a bridge to a permanent, democratic, free, prosperous and wonderful Iran.”

Other prominent American figures from both political parties participating represented a who’s who list of American “formers,” including former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, retired Marine Commandant James T. Conway and others. Several current U.S. officials also delivered remarks, including Sen. Martha McSally, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat.

Mrs. Rajavi, Mr. Giuliani and other speakers said the wave of popular protests inside Iran over the past three years prove that the time is ripe for dramatic change. In 2017, 2018, 2019, and again in January, swarms of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against Iran’s leaders and their policies.

Thousands of those protesters, the NCRI and others have estimated, were killed or imprisoned as a result, though the Iranian government denies those claims.

Friday’s Free Iran summit was the first since Tehran and Washington came to the brink of all-out war last summer. After a series of military encounters in the Strait of Hormuz and Iranian-backed attacks on Americans inside Iraq, President Trump ordered an airstrike to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and a designated terrorist.

Iran responded by firing rockets at U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq, though no Americans were killed. The two nations ultimately pulled back from the brink of war, but the administration continued its economic pressure campaign and urged its European allies to fully scrap the Obama-era nuclear deal. Mr. Trump exited the deal in 2018, arguing that it was too weak and still gave Tehran a pathway to nuclear weapons.

That pact was designed to offer Iran economic relief in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program. But instead of investing in its people, critics argue Iran’s leaders used the money they received to enrich themselves and covertly deliver funds to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

“They’d rather send people to bomb us in Paris or to kill some of you in America than to feed their people,” Mr. Giuliani said Friday.

Even across Europe, where the Iran nuclear deal was much more popular than it was in the U.S., officials say Iran’s leadership has proven it can’t deliver for its people.

“The Iranian people want change, to have democracy, finally to have human rights, to finally have economic wealth, no more hunger. The will of the people is much stronger than any oppressive measure of an Iranian regime,” said Martin Patzelt, a member of German Parliament.

Whether it was the Iran nuclear deal or other policies, all efforts to reform the government in Tehran have failed and the only remaining option is for the Iranian people to rise up and install new leadership, said former U.S. Sen. Lieberman.

“We have reached a point where we can conclude, after all that has been tried with this criminal syndicate that is holding the people and history and culture of Iran hostage, that everything that has been tried has not worked,” he said. “It will come from the resistance fighters in Iran … and when they do turn their resistance into rebellion, we and the rest of the world — particularly the United States — must stand with them and support them. I am convinced that is a day that is coming.”

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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asks a question during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on police use of force and community relations on on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Washington. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP) more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

China holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. government debt — and thanks to a decades-old tax treaty doesn’t have to pay tax to Uncle Sam on the income it derives from dividends from the interest on that debt.

Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, wants the Treasury Department to report exactly how much that costs the U.S. in lost revenue.

“Think about that: We are borrowing money from China to pay China for lending us money, and sweetening the bargain with a tax loophole that literally goes all the way to China,” Ms. Ernst said Tuesday as she awarded the trade deal terms her “Squeal award” for the month of June.

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Ms. Ernst won election in 2014 in part on a campaign ad where she recalled her Iowa childhood castrating hogs, and vowed to make Washington squeal under the budget scalpel.

In this case, her target is the terms of trade with the Chinese government, which she says allows China to run a massive trade surplus with the U.S., while avoiding taxes on the dividend income from U.S. debt.

In a letter last week to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, the senator said China has reneged on agreements with President Trump to buy more U.S. products such as soybeans.

She said as those trade negotiations continue, both the U.S. and China deserve to know how much income Uncle Sam is forgoing because of the dividend tax matter. She said it would be good to know what other countries also are excused from paying.

“I would, therefore, request that the Treasury Department begin calculating and publicly posting the amount of interest paid to the top ten major foreign holders of U.S. Treasury securities as well as the cost of foregone tax revenues resulting from any exemptions granted by trade deals or other agreements with those nations,” she wrote.

EU to list which citizens can enter; U.S. likely to miss out

EU to list which citizens can enter; U.S. likely to miss out

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In this Sunday, June 14, 2020 file photo, a crane removes the concrete blocks that closed customs access, in Thonex near Geneva, Switzerland. The European Union is set to make public on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, a list of countries … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Tuesday is announcing a list of nations whose citizens will be allowed to enter 31 European countries, but most Americans are likely to be refused entry for at least another two weeks due to soaring coronavirus infections in the U.S.

As Europe’s economies reel from the impact of the coronavirus, southern EU countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are desperate to entice back sun-loving visitors and breathe life into their damaged tourism industries.

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.

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Still, many people both inside and outside Europe remain wary of travel in the coronavirus era, given the unpredictability of the pandemic and the possibility of second waves of infection that could affect flights and hotel bookings. Tens of thousands of travelers had a frantic, chaotic scramble in March to get home as the pandemic swept across the world and borders slammed shut.

EU envoys to Brussels have launched a written procedure which would see the list endorsed Tuesday as long as no objections are raised by member countries. The list is expected to contain up to 15 countries that have virus infection rates comparable to those in the EU.

Infection rates in Brazil, Russia and India are high too, and they are also unlikely to make the cut.

The countries would also have to lift any bans they might have on European travelers. The list of permitted nations is to be updated every 14 days, with new countries being added or even dropping off depending on if they are keeping the disease under control.

The daily number of new confirmed cases in the United States has surged over the past week. The U.S. has the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 2.6 million people confirmed infected and over 126,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say understates the pandemic’s true toll due to limited testing and other reasons.

In contrast, aside from a notable recent outbreak tied to a slaughterhouse in western Germany, the virus’s spread has generally stabilized across much of continental Europe.

In March, President Donald Trump suspended all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel zone from entering the U.S., making it unlikely now that U.S. citizens would qualify to enter the EU.

The EU imposed restrictions on non-essential travel to its 27 nations, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the Schengen open-borders area, in March to halt the spread of the virus. Non-EU citizens who are already living in Europe are not included in the ban.

The EU list does not apply to travel to Britain, which left the EU in January. Britain now requires all incoming travelers – bar a few exceptions like truck drivers – to go into a self-imposed 14-day quarantine, although the measure is under review and is likely to ease in the coming weeks. The requirement also applies to U.K. citizens.

White House says Trump, Pence weren’t briefed on intel about Russian bounties to kill U.S. troops

Trump, Pence were not briefed on intel about Russian bounties to kill U.S. troops: White House

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In this file photo, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, June 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) **FILE** more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The White House said Saturday that President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were not briefed on U.S. intelligence that Russia offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill coalition forces, including U.S. troops.

“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in a statement.

She said her comments do not “speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence, but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter.”

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The Times reported Friday that U.S. intelligence concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence agents had offered the bounties. The paper said Mr. Trump was briefed on the matter, and that the National Security Council held a meeting about it in late March.

Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, asked former acting Director of Intelligence Richard Grenell on Twitter, “Did you really not tell @realDonaldTrump and @VP Pence that Russia was paying militants to kill US troops? Or is @PressSec lying?”

Mr. Grenell replied to the lawmaker, “I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence. You clearly don’t understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain.”

He said critics are “basing a whole bunch of assumptions on an anonymous source from the NYT.”

Former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on Twitter of the White House’s explanation, “I don’t believe this for a minute, but if it were true, it means that Trump is not even pretending to serve as commander in chief. And no one around him has the guts to ask him to. More evidence of their deadly incompetence.”

Julian Assange case: 10 major developments since WikiLeaks publisher’s arrest

Julian Assange case: 10 major developments since WikiLeaks publisher’s arrest

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In this May 1, 2019, file photo, buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The superseding indictment unsealed against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange Wednesday is the latest in a growing list of developments to emerge since he was arrested last April. Here is a list of 10 key moments in the Australian’s case that have transpired in the 14 months that followed as he remains jailed in London fighting a U.S. extradition request.

1) April 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice unseals a criminal indictment charging Assange shortly after he is arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012. Filed under seal by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va., the indictment charges him with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for allegedly having offered to help former WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning try to hack into a protected military network eight years earlier. The Justice Department says the U.S. will accordingly seek Assange’s extradition from the U.K.

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2) May 23, 2019

A superseding indictment is filed charging Assange with 17 additional counts, all violations of the U.S. Espionage Act, related to receiving, obtaining and publishing classified material that Manning admittedly gave to WikiLeaks in 2010 to be published. Manning, a former Army analyst, previously served roughly seven years in military prison for her part.

3) May 31, 2019

Nils Melzer, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on torture, strongly condemned the Justice Department’s prosecution of Assange after visiting him at Belmarsh Prison in London. In a statement, the UN expert said that he believed that the time Assange spent confined within the embassy and then imprisoned behind bars amounted to “psychological torture.”

4) September 20, 2019

President Trump, who had praised WikiLeaks during his 2016 campaign for publishing material damaging to his Democratic opponent in the race, declined to comment when asked about his government’s case against Assange. “Well, you know, that’s a question I haven’t heard in a long time. I’ll leave that to you to determine,” Mr. Trump said while fielding questions from reporters following a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

5) October 9, 2019

Spain’s National Court announces it is investigating a Spanish security firm accused of spying on Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy. Assange alleges the firm, Undercover Global SL, installed covert microphones and cameras throughout the compound that recorded his private conversation and meetings with visitors including doctors and lawyers, as seen in hidden video footage that has subsequently leaked. Undercover Global has called the allegations “totally false.”

6) November 26, 2019

Australia media reports that Mr. Morrison, the nation’s prime minister, said he is “unable to intervene” in efforts to have Assange extradited to the U.S., dismissing calls to get involved in the Aussie’s case.

7) February 19, 2020

A lawyer for Assange claims that former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who holds the distinction of being the only sitting U.S. Congressman to have visited Assange at the embassy, said during their 2017 meeting that Mr. Trump was prepared to offer a pardon if the WikiLeaks publisher cleared Russia of involvement in his website’s acquisition of internal Democratic National Committee that it later published leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Spokespeople for the White House and Mr. Rohrabacher have denied the allegation.

8) Feb. 24, 2020

Extradition proceedings begin in London with a round of hearings held over the course of four days at Woolwich Crown Court in London. Another round had been scheduled to commence in May but has been postponed due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and has yet to take place.

9) April 11, 2020

Stella Moris-Smith Robertson, a lawyer close to Assange, reveals they conceived two children together while he lived at the embassy and that she and Assange are engaged to be married.

10) June 24, 2020

The Justice Department unseals a second superseding indictment against Assange. It does not charge Assange with any additional counts, but rather it broadens the scope of the conspiracy to commit computer intrusions charge to allege that he also recruited individuals involved with the Anonymous hacktivist movement to steal data for WikiLeaks. Reacting on Twitter the next day, WikiLeaks dismissed the latest filing as a “desperate PR move.”

Assange, 48, remains imprisoned at Belmarsh pending the outcome of his extradition trial, which is currently set to resume in London in September but could be postponed further. He faces a maximum sentence of 175 years imprisonment if sent to the U.S. and convicted of all counts.

Assange maintains he acted as a journalist by releasing the classified material he is charged with making public, which includes hundreds of thousands of U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, previously unpublished information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and details about the foreign detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, among other documents leaked by Manning.

Bob Menendez, Eliot Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

Menendez, Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

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In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel D-N.Y., speaks during the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela at Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees on Thursday unveiled legislation to restrict funding to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany and other European allied countries.

President Trump confirmed on Monday that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

The plan has received swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers and European leaders who say a U.S. troop withdrawal would hinder the historic U.S.-European alliance and could pave the way for Russian interference in the region.

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Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the legislation that prohibits the use of funds to reduce the presence of U.S. armed forces in Europe unless requested by the host country, the president gives 180 days notice of the withdrawal, or the Secretaries of State and Defense publicly testify on Capitol Hill within 14 days of the announcement.

“The current U.S. troop presence in Germany is in the U.S. national security interest. Full stop,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement. “The Administration has made no effort to explain how our country is stronger because of this drawdown decision. Because we’re not,” he continued. “This drawdown weakens America and Europe. And [Russian President] Vladimir Putin understands and appreciates that better than anyone.”

“Rather than heeding the overwhelming bipartisan rebuke from Congress about this scheme and its catastrophic consequences, President Trump has once again made foreign policy decisions based solely on his absurd affection for Vladimir Putin, a murderous dictator who has attacked America and our allies,” Mr. Engel said. “President Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw thousands of troops from and reduce the total force cap in Germany endangers our national security. Our legislation will stop the Administration from carrying out this calamitous policy.”

Although around 50,000 American troops are authorized to be stationed in Germany, currently there are about 34,000 U.S. troops deployed in Germany. There has also been speculation that some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

Mr. Trump suggested Monday that he could change his mind about the withdrawal of troops if Germany also gives the U.S. more favorable terms on trade in its dealings with the European Union.

“We’re negotiating with them on that,” Mr. Trump said, “but right now I’m not satisfied with the deal they want to make.”

Trump orders Pentagon to slash number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany

Trump orders Pentagon to slash number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany

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In this July 30, 2014 file photo the flags of the United States and Germany fly behind a sign at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. On June 5, 2020, the Pentagon announced President Trump has ordered a 28% reduction of U.S. … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Friday, June 5, 2020

President Trump wants a major reduction in the number of U.S. military personnel based in Germany and has ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there, according to the newspaper.

The president’s decision to cut the number of troops comes amid strains in relations with Germany, the Wall Street Journal said, and the country’s level of military spending.

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The identity of any Army or Air Force units that would be affected by the order or the location where the personnel would be sent to wasn’t immediately known.

Netanyahu and settlers clash over West Bank annexation plans

Netanyahu and settlers clash over West Bank annexation plans

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Palestinians burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against Trump’s mideast initiative, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, May 30, 2020.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has harshly criticized Jewish West Bank settler leaders for disparaging President Donald Trump over what they perceive to be his less than adequate plan allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.

Despite what is widely viewed as a pro-Israel peace plan, settler leaders have voiced concern that the maps they have seen leave many settlements as isolated enclaves. They also reject any recognition of a Palestinian state, as outlined in the American plan, and have pressed Netanyahu to make changes.

On Wednesday, David Elhayani, chairman of the umbrella Yesha Council representing the settlers, told the Haaretz daily that the plan proved Trump was “not a friend of Israel.”

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Netanyahu, having just met settler leaders to hear their grievances, lashed back.

“President Trump is a great friend of Israel‘s. He has led historic moves for Israel’s benefit,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “It is regrettable that instead of showing gratitude, there are those who are denying his friendship.”

Speaker of Parliament Yariv Levin, who has been involved in implementing the plan, went even further, calling Elhayani’s remarks “rude and irresponsible.” He said they exhibited an ungratefulness that was particularly damaging at a time when there was “an important effort to advance the historic process of applying sovereignty” to parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu has announced that he will annex parts of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and dozens of Jewish settlements, in line with Trump’s Mideast plan. He has signaled he will begin moving forward with annexation next month.

The U.S. plan envisions leaving about one third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it unfairly favors Israel.

They have already cut off key security ties with Israel and say they are no longer bound to agreements signed. On Thursday, the Palestinians announced they would refuse to accept the tax money Israel routinely collects for them. The moves have raised concerns of a return to violence if the plan is actually carried out.

The annexation plan has also come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement.

U.S. offers $1.2B to support AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine effort

U.S. offers $1.2B to support AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine effort

Trump sees 'tremendous promise in the effort to block coronavirus

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In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, file photo, a view of the AstraZeneca logo, on a building, in South San Francisco, Calif. Drugmaker AstraZeneca secured its first agreements Thursday, May 21, 2020, for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The U.S. government is committing over $1 billion to secure at least 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine that’s being developed by Oxford University in Britain and licensed to pharma-giant AstraZeneca.

“I think it holds tremendous promise,” President Trump said during a tour of a Ford plant in Michigan. “But we have many other companies that are just about as far along.”

Initial-phase studies of the vaccine candidate are underway in the U.K.

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The developers are using a platform technology that allows them to ramp up production rapidly, with support from the Trump administration through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Mr. Trump is eyeing a number of vaccine candidates, also name-checking Johnson and Johnson ahead of a trip to Michigan.

“We have a lot of things happening on the vaccine front, on the therapeutic front,” he told reporters, predicting “a lot of big announcements” over the next week or two.

A vaccine is considered the critical piece in getting the world back to normal following the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Trump wants to see a vaccine by the end of the year, if not before, and has launched a campaign called “Operation Warp Speed” to get there.

“This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “Getting a vaccine to the American public as soon as possible is one part of President Trump’s multi-faceted strategy for safely reopening our country and bringing life back to normal, which is essential to Americans’ physical and mental well-being in so many ways.”

Liz Cheney says Communist China spread virus on purpose

Communist China spread coronavirus on purpose: Cheney

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping wearing a protective face mask speaks to residents as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at a neighbourhoods in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. … more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Rep. Liz Cheney said today that China made a strategic decision to spread the coronavirus to make sure the world, not just Beijing, suffered economic hardship.

The Wyoming Republican said on “Fox and Friends” that China cannot be “a member of civilized community of nations because of what they’ve done.”

The evidence, she said, is that China realized it had an epidemic on its hands in the city of Wuhan and Hubei Province and responded by restricting domestic travel. But the ruling communist party continued to let Wuhan-area citizens fly internationally to the U.S. and Europe, the first regions to be hit hard by the COVID-19 disease which has killed over 285,000 people.

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China has issued no apologies and gone on the attack via its global propaganda machine. Chinese social media blames the U.S. for planting the virus and mocks President Trump’s response.

Ms. Cheney, the third ranking House Republican, struck a theme increasingly gaining acceptance in the GOP to explain why China deceptively told the world in mid-January the disease was not transmitted person-to-person when it knew the virus was contagious. President Trump has suggested China let the germ spread globally.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other party members in Congress have mostly refrained from criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. They funnel blame on to Mr. Trump for not stopping the pandemic.

Ms. Cheney issued a general indictment of China, not just for the virus, but for its long history of being at war with the U.S. As part of statecraft, Chinese military units hack into U.S. companies and computer data bases to steal intellectual property and millions of personal identities.

The Trump Justice Department has indicted Huawei, China’s communications conglomerate, for alleged criminal activity. It is also is investigating China’s practice of infiltrating college campuses to steal U.S. scientific knowhow.

“Look I think there’s no question the Chinese Community Party, the Chinese government, [are] absolutely directly responsible for this pandemic, for the death, for the economic devastation that we’re seeing,” Ms. Cheney said. “I think they clearly decided at some point when they knew they had human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, they understood that the economic devastation was going to be huge and I think they believed they would rather have that spread around the globe than simply something they suffered from.

“So we watched them stop travel from Wuhan into the rest of China. But then let the travel continue around the world. There’s no question they caused this virus to be spread. They have to be held accountable. And I think given their role in the world, the extent to which they clearly cannot continue to be a member of civilized community of nations because of what they’ve done, because of the lies.

“It’s something that we’ve got to take a very close look at. And I think you’re going to see across-the-board steps both to make sure we remove our supply chains, steps to insure that they do not have a seat at the table that they have had in the past, steps to insure that we educate the American people so they understand the vast array of steps the government of China has been taking for so many years now to really try to defeat us.

“And we’ve got to make sure that we’re defending ourselves and that the United States leads the Free World. That the world has got to live by rules set by countries that believe in freedom, not set by the communist Chinese Party.”

Kenneth Braithwaite, nominee to be secretary of Navy, acknowledges ‘rough seas’ for service

Braithwaite, nominee to be secretary of Navy, acknowledges ‘rough seas’ for service

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Kenneth Braithwaite, nominated to be Secretary of the Navy, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee nominations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang and Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The culture of the U.S. Navy has been “tarnished” by a string of disciplinary and operational missteps in recent years, most recently with the handling of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, President Trump’s pick to lead the troubled military branch said Thursday.

Kenneth Braithwaite, a retired rear admiral now serving as U.S. ambassador to Norway, told a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Thursday he would set the proper tone at the top and work to restore the appropriate culture if confirmed as the next secretary of the Navy.

“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” he told lawmakers in a visibly distanced hearing room on Capitol Hill beside bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

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In a break with congressional tradition, the nominee’s family was unable to attend the hearing due to precautions in place throughout Congress to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mr. Braithwaite was tapped to the top civilian post in the Navy last November, but his confirmation process had moved slowly. If confirmed, the former naval aviator will succeed former Secretary Richard Spencer, who lost his job after clashing with President Trump over the legal ordeal of Navy SEAL Chief Special Operator Edward Gallagher, who was accused of war crimes in Iraq.

Mr. Braithwaite, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, would face arguably the toughest task of his career should he be confirmed.

A host of recent scandals have generated near-constant negative headlines for the service, at a time when the Navy also is struggling to ward off Russian power plays in the Arctic, Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and other key geopolitical priorities.

But the Navy’s internal politics have overshadowed those challenges.

Most recently, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, Mr. Spencer’s interim successor, was himself forced to step down following a public clash with Capt. Brett Crozier, who headed the USS Theodore Roosevelt as COVID-19 swept through the ship and forced the nuclear-powered carrier to dock in Guam.

Mr. Modly relieved the captain of his command after a letter Capt. Crozier wrote urging action to help his stricken crew was leaked to the press, and then flew to Guam to publicly and profanely scold the Roosevelt crew for cheering their fired commander.

Mr. Modly resigned in the PR firestorm that followed, and Pentagon officials now are weighing whether to restore Capt. Crozier to his post on the Roosevelt.

“The Navy chain of command is in disarray,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s ranking Democrat, citing the Roosevelt fiasco.

“It goes to trust,” Mr. Reed continued. “It goes to the culture of the Navy. It goes to reliance on the chain of command by the authorities, getting advice and supporting them.”

Mr. Braithwaite told the committee that the Navy’s recent run of problems, including collisions at sea, troubles with the military judicial system and the USS Roosevelt incident were “all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service.”

He said that he supports an expanded inquiry into the Roosevelt incident and told lawmakers that “whenever you’re confronted with a challenge like this, it’s best to pause, consider all the facts and then make the right decision.”

“I learned that in flight school, as a young naval aviator, that whenever any bell or whistle went off in your cockpit, the most important thing to do is to sit on your hands for two seconds, … because then you can assess the problem correctly before shutting down the wrong system.”

On another issue, Mr. Braithwaite vowed to be a strong advocate for a 355-ship Navy, the goal many on Capitol Hill have called for but one many in the Navy itself have only reluctantly embraced.

“Sir, [the fleet] needs to be minimally 355 ships,” Mr. Braithwaite told committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “Hopefully we build beyond that.”

“That’s a good, brief answer. I appreciate that. I won’t ask why because I agree with you,” Mr. Inhofe responded.

The committee is expected to advance Mr. Braithwaite’s nomination, and a full Senate vote will likely be held in the coming weeks.

Trump hawking of U.S. military hardware to global leaders now harder

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In this April 13, 2018, file photo, Taiwanese F-16 jet fighters fly in close formation during a navy exercise at Suao naval station in Yilan County, northeastern Taiwan. China demanded Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, that the U.S. cancel a $330 … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Along with canceled political rallies and missed teetimes, the coronavirus crisis is threatening another favorite activity of President Trump — the touting of U.S. military hardware and the hard sell for global leaders who visit the Oval Office.

As the self-described dealmaker-in-chief, Mr. Trump routinely touts the lethality and overall excellence of U.S. military hardware — along with thousands of U.S. jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars their exports can generate. In February, on his last overseas trip before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down economies and threatened defense budgets around the world, the president was hailing a $3 billion arms deal with India.

“We make the greatest weapons ever — airplanes, missiles, rockets, ships. We make the best and we’re dealing,” President Trump told a cheering New Delhi crowd standing alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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But in the past few weeks, it has become abundantly clear that governments and the defense industry are by no means immune to the effects of the global pandemic, said Rachel Stohl, an expert in the international arms trade at the Washington-based Stimson Center.

A number of defense manufacturers and vendors have been forced to significantly curtail if not altogether suspend their operations. In the U.S. alone, that figure included more than 100 businesses, although some have already resumed operations, Ms. Stohl said.

Other countries, including allies such as Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand, are already talking about significantly reduced military budgets in the coming year as their revenue base crumbles. In Europe, NATO allies battered by the virus face new pressures not to meet Mr. Trump’s oft-stated demand for more military spending as they try to rescue their economies.

Oil-dependent states such as Saudi Arabia, long one of the biggest buyers in the global arms bazaar, could face a double whammy on military spending, as record low oil prices on top of the coronavirus panic play havoc with their original spending projections.

“There are really challenges that will impact military expenditures and arms transfers for many years to come,” Ms. Stohl said.

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic made its appearance on the world stage, global defense spending had been on a steady rise. Now analysts forecast governments will almost certainly be forced to cut back on buying military hardware over COVID-19 concerns, cuts which would hit the U.S. industry hard as the largest arms exporter.

From 2015-2019, the U.S. constituted 35% of all the world’s arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Register Institute (SIPRI). Last year, global defense spending reached $1.9 trillion.

“Not many of us really know how much $1.9 trillion really is. We’re talking about a substantial amount of money,” said Nan Tian, an analyst with SIPRI.

Market peak?

The coronavirus shock, analysts note, comes as a time when global defense spending may already have peaked and were on a downward track.

“It was unlikely this year was ever going to look like last year anyway, which was a recent high of foreign military sales,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense specialist with the American Enterprise Institute. “Yes, there’s going to be the COVID effect but it was already going to be” lower.

According to SIPRI, worldwide military spending in 2019 represented 2.2% of global gross domestic product, which amounts to about $249 per person. Global military expenditures were 7.2% higher last year than it was in 2010, indicating that military spending had accelerated in recent years.

“What we can expect is that spending [is] really going to decrease,” Nan Tian, a defense spending expert with the institute, said Tuesday during a Stimson Center webcast. “We’ve seen this historically following the [2008 and 2009 financial] crisis, where many countries in Europe really started to cut back on military spending.”

There is no avoiding the fact that the supply chain disruption in the U.S. defense industry is massive and will have effects downstream, Ms. Eaglen said.

“Even with some companies that have been determined to be ‘essential’ or ‘critical,’ 30% to 50% of the employees are not showing up,” she said. “This alone is going to cause issues with foreign partners or allies that are struggling to keep up their own national industrial capacity.”

Maiya Clark, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said the federal government is trying to ease some of the coronavirus-related disruptions for the defense industry, including easing regulations and time lines on licensing for foreign deals.

“It’s just being extended a short amount of time to tide them over,” she said.

Governments recognize the national security imperative of keeping their defense firms solvent.

“It’s much harder to have it die off and bring it back than it is to maintain it as much as they can during this rocky time,” Ms. Clark said.

Just holding the line of defense spending and foreign sales would be preferable to a decrease, retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, president of the National Defense Industrial Association, told the Defense One website.

“This is going to be years to climb out of,” Gen. Carlisle said.

The disruption in the industrial base and the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus may even cause some governments to rethink their national security strategy.

“You’re going to see that trend from other governments,” said Ms. Eaglen. “‘Why do we need these fighters? What is national security?’” she said. “I think we’re even going to see that here to some extent.”

Even with the coronavirus pandemic, there have been some bright spots in the arms industry, analysts point out. This week, General Electric won a $707 million contract to supply F-16 engines to Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan and Qatar.

“Countries, including the United States, recognize the importance of national defense. So governments that still have the ability to be shopping right now are still shopping for their defense needs,” Ms. Clark said. “These countries are still trying to hold to their acquisition schedules.”

The Pentagon has done what it can to assist the defense industry during the coronavirus pandemic by modifying thousands of contracts with vendors and not penalizing them for delays. Even so, Ms. Eaglen with AEI said the foreign military sales issue isn’t currently”bubbling up” with U.S. defense officials at this point.

“This just isn’t on their radar yet,” she said. “But it will be once they get their heads above water.”

Sergey Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, says he confronted Pompeo about concerns over 2020 race

Russian foreign minister says he confronted Pompeo about concerns over 2020 race

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In this photo taken on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Russia’s top diplomat said Saturday that he raised concerns with his American counterpart about Moscow being accused once more of meddling in President Trump’s election campaign.

“I bluntly said that we anticipate and are already feeling a new wave of accusations that we will interfere in the current election,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recalled during a television interview about a conversation he had recently with U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo.

Mr. Lavrov added that he proposed to Mr. Pompeo that both countries “create a mechanism” for their president to address related concerns raised by either, according to a transcription of the interview published in Russian on the ministry’s website.

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The U.S. State Department did not immediately return a request for comment over the weekend. The agency previously said that Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Lavrov spoke by phone last week.

U.S. intelligence agencies have long assessed that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election won by President Trump, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said this week that a review conducted by lawmakers found no reason to doubt the intelligence community’s conclusion.

“With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors,” Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, said Tuesday.

“There is certainly no reason to doubt that the Russians’ success in 2016 is leading them to try again in 2020, and we must not be caught unprepared,” echoed Vice Chairman Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat.

Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 election.

Trump claims credit after Russia-Saudi Arabia oil deal

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The sun sets behind an idle pump jack near Karnes City, Texas, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Demand for oil continues to fall due to the new coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, April 13, 2020

President Trump took a victory lap as global oil prices ticked up slightly Monday, a day after his personal diplomacy helped nail down a deal among Russia, Saudi Arabia and other major players to cut production in response to an unprecedented collapse in demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Trump hinted that the size of the cut may be even larger than the top suppliers revealed, but the modest price increase indicated that traders still have a lot of skepticism.

Analysts said it is far too soon to tell whether the agreement will help raise rock-bottom oil prices, but Mr. Trump latched onto the pact to claim a badly needed policy win as the economy craters.

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Indeed, some analysts said the president deserved credit for putting public pressure on Moscow and Riyadh to end the brutal price war while shielding U.S. producers from committing to further reductions or allowing Washington to be sucked into the feud.

The U.S. has been of two minds about the price war. Mr. Trump originally touted the sharp fall in prices for consumers as massive production led to a vast oversupply.

But with oil prices under $25 a barrel and heading lower, Mr. Trump was looking at pain in Texas and other oil-producing states that he is counting on for his reelection this fall.

Brent Crude prices, the international standard, rose 26 cents Monday to close at $31.74 a barrel after sharp declines last week. Brent Crude is still down by some 55% since the start of the year.

U.S. benchmark crude rose more than $1 before closing the day down 35 cents to settle at $22.41 a barrel.

The weekend agreement between Russia and the Saudi-led OPEC calls for suppliers to cut daily output by about 9.7 million barrels a day, about 10%. The reductions are to be phased out by 2022.

The president took to Twitter and boasted of an even grander scale and said American frackers and drillers will be the big winners once the economy reopens.

“Having been involved in the negotiations, to put it mildly, the number that OPEC+ is looking to cut is 20 million barrels a day, not the 10 million that is generally being reported,” Mr. Trump said. “If anything near this happens, and the World gets back to business from the COVID-19 disaster, the energy industry will be strong again, far faster than currently anticipated.”

Saudi estimates

Offering at least some support for Mr. Trump’s hints, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud said the deal will result in a de facto daily cut of about 19.5 million barrels when taking into account other factors such as cuts by non-OPEC countries and the movement of oil to reserve stockpiles rather than to market.

Energy analysts say it’s hard to overstate the role Mr. Trump played in securing the landmark deal. His public demands on Russia and Saudi Arabia and his behind-the-scenes negotiations with the leaders of both countries seem to have dramatically changed the tone of talks in the past week.

When Mexico’s government balked at the cuts it would be forced to make as part of the deal, Mr. Trump stepped in Friday to say he would help Mexico recoup some of its losses.

“Many of us believed, given how the Saudis were digging in, how the Russians were digging in, that we would get no offramp in this price war until the June OPEC meeting,” Helima Croft, managing director at RBC Capital Markets, said during a conference call hosted by the Atlantic Council. “President Trump’s intervention, I think, really changed the trajectory of this crisis.”

Still, it could take months before the true impact of the deal is felt, and it remains to be seen whether such a large cut in supply will make up for a sharp contraction in demand as countries shut down their economies to fight the pandemic.

The cut of 9.7 million barrels per day doesn’t take effect until May 1, and it’s not entirely clear when nations will begin to lift social distancing orders, which have ground domestic and international travel to a halt and slashed demand for gasoline as a result.

Early signs, however, were mostly positive. The international benchmark Brent Crude price rose by 2.1%, closing at $32.14 per barrel.

Overall prices have fallen by about 60% since the beginning of the year, and analysts warned that they would have dropped further without the Russia-OPEC truce.

The final terms of the agreement also represented a win for U.S. oil-and-gas producers on two major fronts.

The American fuel sector had urged Mr. Trump to steer clear of imposing tariffs on foreign fuel imports — a move he threatened earlier this month if Russia and OPEC didn’t cut output — because such a strategy, they argued, could raise the prices of production materials for U.S. firms.

They also praised Mr. Trump for ensuring that the U.S. oil industry did not have to make concrete promises to cut their own production even further, a condition Russia and other producers had pushed for early in negotiations.

U.S. producers — who have higher costs that rivals in Saudi Arabia and Russia — say they’ve already cut output in response to market factors and that the weekend agreement merely brought the rest of the world onto the same playing field.

U.S. praise for deal

Industry groups and a number of Republicans from oil patch states on Capitol Hill hailed the agreement.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski said Monday she was “glad the Saudis and Russians are taking a step back from their economic warfare against U.S. producers, and I thank President Trump and [Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette] for their leadership in reaching this agreement.”

The Alaska Republican said she and two GOP colleagues talked with Saudi Minister al-Saud for two hours Saturday to push the production-cutting deal.

“We commend the president’s leadership and his administration’s diplomatic engagement to urge nations to bring global oil supply in line with the lower energy demand as a result of the pandemic,” Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.

But a win for the U.S. seems to be a major loss for Russia, according to some analysts. As the coronavirus economic shutdown began last month, Moscow initially resisted calls to cut its own oil production.

Early talks with Saudi Arabia centered on Russia cutting around 300,000 barrels per day, a number the Kremlin refused to meet.

The final deal calls on Russia to cut more than 2.5 million barrels each day.

Entering a price war with Saudi Arabia was “a strategic mistake and now we’re paying the price, a much higher price than we could have paid,” Andrey Kortunov, director of the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council, told Worldoil.com. “This looks like a victory for the U.S., and Russia ends up a bigger loser than Saudi Arabia.”

Despite its huger reserves, Russia “is facing a tough dilemma: lower oil prices versus lower oil output,” Evghenia Sleptsova, an analyst with Oxford Economics, told the Moscow Times. “Our analysis shows that the impact on GDP of either oil at $25 [a barrel] or output at 9.7 million barrels per day is almost the same — both cost about 2-2.3% of GDP.”

Under the Russia-OPEC deal, production will drop by 9.7 million barrels per day for two months, beginning May 1. For six months after that, the reduction will be 7.7 million barrels per day.

The reductions will gradually decrease before the deal concludes at the end of April 2022.

France extends coronavirus lockdown restrictions until May 11

France extends coronavirus lockdown restrictions until May 11

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French President Emmanuel Macron takes part in a videoconference with World Health Organization (WHO) general-director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in Paris. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, April 13, 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said the government will extend the country’s coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions until May 11.

In a televised news conference, Mr. Macron said that while there have been signs that the virus’ spread is slowing, the country was not “sufficiently ready” for the scope of the outbreak.

“Hope is coming back, but nothing is certain,” he said.

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Restaurants, bars and public spaces will continue to stay closed across the country until at least mid-July, while schools are expected to gradually reopen starting May 11, Mr. Macron explained.

France has closed its borders to all non-European Union countries for the foreseeable future in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus.

He said the restrictions will be enforced by the police, and anyone who goes outside is required to carry a permit that confirms their reason for leaving their home.

France has confirmed 133,685 cases of COVID-19, 14,986 deaths and 28,001 recoveries, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. France has a population of 65.2 million.