October 18, 2018

Jared Kushner seems to think the mounting international tensions sparked by Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance will blow over.

President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser has urged him to stand by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, thinking the outrage sparked by the suspected murder of a Washington Post columnist "will pass," The New York Times reports.

Kushner reportedly pointed to other recent incidents that the public largely moved on from, such as when 40 children were killed in a Saudi-led airstrike last month. CNN reports that Kushner and the crown prince have a close relationship and have communicated privately on WhatsApp.

Saudi Arabia is considering placing blame for Khashoggi's suspected death on one of the crown prince's advisers, reports the Times. Officials will reportedly admit that bin Salman ordered General Ahmed al-Assiri to capture Khashoggi so he could be brought to Saudi Arabia for interrogation, but will say he didn't authorize Assiri to kill him. Khashoggi visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month to obtain a marriage document and has not been heard from since. The United States has reportedly been briefed on the Saudis' plans to blame Assiri.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the United States would give Saudi Arabia a few more days to complete its investigation, at which point they will examine the facts before deciding whether to respond. Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

6:51 p.m.

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, which means there will soon be three effective shots available for Americans.

The Johnson & Johnson candidate registered a 72 percent efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial. That falls short of the roughly 95 percent rates seen in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna trials, but, The New York Times notes, experts are still very pleased with Johnson & Johnson's results, especially since it also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe COVID-19 infections, and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalizations and deaths, suggesting it will be a crucial tool in the fight to end the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, told the Times people shouldn't get wrapped up in the numbers and instead "accept the fact that now you have three highly effective vaccines. Period." And Dr. Danny Avula, the vaccine coordinator for Virginia, said he's "super-pumped about this," adding that the lack of hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated trial volunteers is "all I need to hear."

Plus, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine requires just one dose for full inoculation and can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures for three months, which will help states speed up their vaccination drives and make distribution easier. All told, Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the U.S. with 100 million doses by June, but four million doses should be ready to go as soon as possible now that the FDA has signed off, with another 16 million available by the end of the March. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

3:35 p.m.

The Associated Press has obtained internal Louisiana State Police records that represent the first public acknowledgment that Ronald Greene, a 49-year-old black man who died in custody in May 2019, was mistreated.

The cause of Greene's death remains unexplained and is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Per AP, the records reveal that body camera footage — which has not been released — shows Master Trooper Kory York dragging Ronald Greene "on his stomach by the leg shackles" after a violent arrest and high-speed pursuit, and an attorney representing Greene's family who has reportedly seen the video told AP that other troopers can be seen choking, beating, and jolting Greene with stun guns. Police initially claimed Greene died as a result of a car crash.

York, who turned his own body camera off on the way to the scene (he said it was beeping loudly and he forgot to turn it back on), was suspended without pay for 50 hours after an internal investigation. Col. Lamar Davis, the State Police's new superintendent, reportedly told York he "would have imposed" more severe discipline, but the suspension was handed out by his predecessor who stepped down last year amid a series of scandals, AP reports. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

2:54 p.m.

On Friday, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, received an ovation from the U.N. General Assembly after he made an emotional request for help restoring democracy on behalf of the country's elected government that was overthrown in a military coup earlier this month.

But a day later, the military junta that now runs Myanmar announced it had fired him in response, BBC reports. A state television announcement said Kyaw Moe Tun had "abused the power and responsibilities" of his post and "betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organization which doesn't represent" Myanmar.

The news comes after another full day of anti-coup demonstrations across the nation. Police continued to crack down on the protesters, and there are reports that a woman was shot and taken to a hospital. A monitoring group reports more than 770 people have been arrested and sentenced since the rallies began three weeks ago. Read more at BBC. Tim O'Donnell

2:15 p.m.

When former President Donald Trump makes his first major return to the public stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, on Sunday, expect his rhetoric to be more reminiscent of his 2016 presidential campaign than his 2020 one, The New York Times' Maggie Haberman reports.

Rather than boast about his own accomplishments during his lone term in the White House, an adviser told the Times, Trump will instead deliver a fierce critique of President Biden's first few weeks in office. Reporting by CBS News' Ed O'Keefe appears to confirm the strategy, suggesting Trump will focus on Biden's immigration policy, school reopening plan, and "identity politics."

That said, Trump will reportedly find time to highlight and defend Operation Warp Speed and the COVID-19 vaccine development that took place under his administration, and he's also expected to bring up the future of the GOP. "There's a 99.99 percent chance" Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who has steadfastly expressed her opposition to Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, will get a not-so-friendly mention from Trump, a source told O'Keefe.

Of course, Trump is known for going off script, so all bets are off. Read more about Trump's return at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

12:47 p.m.

President Biden on Saturday praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her fellow Democrats who backed his administration's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in the wee hours of the morning. Now, "there's no time to waste" as the package heads to the Senate, Biden added. "If we act now decisively, quickly, and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again," he said. "And the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long. We need to relieve that suffering."

The president didn't address the minimum wage issue in his comments, but his call for speed seems to be in line with his previous rhetoric on the matter. Biden has made it clear he'd prefer an item gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour to remain in the bill, but he's also reportedly not interested in rewriting Senate rules or ignoring the parliamentarian who ruled against its inclusion in the package under budget reconciliation, the tool Democrats are using to push the bill through without Republican support. Biden has also previously said he didn't expect the measure to make it through with the rest of the bill. Tim O'Donnell

12:01 p.m.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) didn't exactly pull punches in an interview with Politico, going after congressional Republicans, Democrats, former President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration all in one go.

Sasse, who is facing imminent censure from the Nebraska GOP for voting to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, stands by that vote and says he's not bothered by the action his home state's Republican Party is taking against him, though he did say he thinks it's not "healthy." His comments to Politico seemed to back up that confidence. At one point, when asked about Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Sasse simply said "that guy is not an adult," and described Congress, generally, as "a bunch of yokels screaming."

Sasse's candor is gutsy, but it's worth noting he's generally well-respected by his Senate colleagues and won re-election handily last year, so he's ensconced in the upper chamber until 2026, and likely doesn't need to look over his shoulder as of now.

While he's been in the spotlight for his intra-party criticism of late, Sasse did have words for Democrats, as well, per Politico. He said the Biden administration is "cowering" to the opinions of progressive lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and called the education spending plan in President Biden's COVID-19 relief package "disastrous." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Ali Shamkhani, Iran's top security official, said Saturday that the United States' airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in eastern Syria earlier this week will rejuvenate the Islamic State in the region, Reuters reports. "The attack on anti-terrorist resistance forces is the beginning of a new round of organized terrorism," an Iranian news agency quoted him as saying during remarks to visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein. More specifically, he said the action "strengthens and expands the activity" of ISIS.

Shamkhani reportedly went on to say Tehran "will confront the U.S. plan to revive terrorism" in the Middle East, but didn't elaborate. Later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the U.S. strikes as "illegal and a violation of Syria's sovereignty."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, provided an in-depth of analysis of the strikes — which were carried out in response to several rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq — suggesting that whether Iran, which denies involvement in the attacks on U.S. targets, chooses to respond in a way that escalates the already-tense relationship hinges on further developments in the Biden administration's diplomacy.

"The administration’s actions and Europe’s support for U.S. decisions in response to Iran’s regional tests will determine whether Tehran believes it can be more aggressive regionally under Biden," Norman Roule, who previously served as the U.S. intelligence manager for Iran, told the Post. "But if the Iranians go up the escalatory ladder, we have no choice but to do the same in order to protect our forces and our partners."

Still, the sense among experts largely remains that President Biden's Iran strategy will be less bellicose overall than former President Donald Trump's. Read more at Reuters, The New York Post, and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

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