Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Matt Gluck
Thursday, May 20, 2021, 3:58 PM

Under mounting international pressure, senior Israeli and Hamas officials privately expressed optimism on Thursday that there could be a cease-fire agreement by this weekend, reports the New York Times. António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, called for an “immediate cease-fire” on Thursday. Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 200 Palestinians—including 60 children—since the beginning of the fighting 11 days ago. The Israeli military said that more than 130 of those killed were combatants and that it has targeted approximately 1,000 sites in Gaza that hold meaningful military importance. Hamas has launched more than 4,000 rockets at Southern Israel, most of which have been shot down by Israeli defenses, landed in unpopulated places or not reached their targets. The Hamas attacks have killed more than 12 people in Israel—including two children.

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to establish an independent commission to investigate the siege on the Capitol on Jan. 6, reports the New York Times. The 252 to 175 vote was largely divided along partisan lines, with only 35 Republicans backing the bill. Earlier in the day Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stated his opposition to the legislation, making the passage of the bill in the Senate less likely.

On Thursday, the House voted 213 to 212 to pass a $1.9 billion appropriations bill to address security improvements at the U.S. Capitol, with no Republicans backing the legislation, reports the Washington Post. While significant portions of the bill would go toward improving security at the Capitol moving forward, the largest chunk of the bill would be allocated toward paying for costs already incurred during the response to the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6 and in the weeks following.

Republican leaders in the House pressed GOP members to oppose the Capitol security bill, according to the Hill. Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said during debate of the legislation on the House floor that the proposed bill “implements permanent recommendations before ongoing security assessments are complete.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, with both men expressing their countries’ strategic differences and their desire to cooperate where possible, reports Reuters. This was the first high-level, in-person conversation between the Biden administration and Russia. Blinken said the U.S. and Russia could collaborate on combating the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran and the Afghanistan war. Blinken also urged Russia to release U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed and discussed the health of Alexei Navalny. The discussion also covered cybersecurity and the deployment of Russian troops to its border with Ukraine.

The Biden administration is leading an international campaign opposing Moscow’s efforts to set maritime regulations along the Northern Sea Route—which runs between Norway and Alaska—and trying to resume discussions about international military activity in the Arctic region, writes the Associated Press. On Thursday, Russia assumed the Arctic Council’s rotating chairmanship. At a meeting of Arctic Council foreign ministers in Reykjavik, Blinken said, the “Arctic remains a region free of conflict where countries act responsibly,” countering Russia’s contention that resuming talks of military activity in the region would increase security.

The U.S. and Russia are joining in opposition to an international effort to establish a pandemic treaty that would institute formal cooperation on public health crises in the future, reports Politico. The U.S. said it does not oppose “discussion about a potential international agreement in some form,” but expressed concern that many countries are still combating the pandemic and don’t have sufficient resources to engage in the negotiations that would be required to establish the treaty.

More people are currently displaced within their countries than at any time before, according to a joint report produced by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), writes France24. The report revealed that 40.5 million people became internally displaced in 2020, bringing the total number to 55 million. Alexandra Bilak, the director of the IDMC, said the true number of internally displaced individuals may be higher because movement restrictions hampered data collection, and “fewer people sought out emergency shelters for fear of infection [with the coronavirus]”. The report found that three-fourths of internal displacements in the last year were due to natural disasters.

The Chinese government has apparently coerced Uyghur individuals to appear in state media videos that support the Communist Party and condemn former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his declaration of genocide in the Xinjiang region, according to the Associated Press. Text obtained by the AP suggests that the Communist Party ordered government offices in the city of Karamay to find one Uyghur individual who was fluent in Mandarin to respond to Pompeo’s statements denouncing China. The AP was not able to authenticate the text, though friends of the man who sent the text to the AP, Firdavs Drinov, said he had obtained it from a friend of his family working for the Karamay government. Drinov has since been arrested by the Xinjiang government for “fabricating and posting fake information” and “poisoning and bewitching ignorant groups and instigating splittism.” The Xinjiang government said that it “has never issued this kind of notice or made this kind of request.”

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jonathan Shaub argued that the agreement over the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn is a significant loss for Congress and an affirmation of a strikingly broad view of executive privilege.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast featuring discussion about the role that Russian intelligence efforts have played in the post-Cold War era. Lawfare’s chief operating officer David Priess spoke with Jack Devine, who worked at the CIA for approximately 30 years, about combating Russian aggression—including through intelligence operations.

Chuck Rosenberg explained why New York Attorney General Letitia James should think about recusing herself from the state’s investigation of the Trump Organization.

Eric Halliday and Rachael Hanna examined the legal basis for the No-Fly List and its role in promoting security, specifically in the context of addressing domestic extremism.

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of Rational Security covering the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the debate over the Jan. 6 commission and the New York attorney general’s decision to investigate the Trump Organization for criminal behavior.

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