July 12, 2019

Before Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in December, the Defense Department had been helmed by an acting secretary just twice, the longest and most recent stint lasting two months in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush, The Associated Press reports. Now, the Pentagon is preparing for its third acting secretary in seven months.

There is also no Senate-confirmed deputy defense secretary, a confirmed incoming Joint Chiefs of Staff member and top Navy admiral abruptly retired this week, and the nominee for Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, was just accused of sexual misconduct by a senior military officer, throwing his confirmation into doubt. "The causes are varied, but this leadership vacuum has nonetheless begun to make members of Congress and others uneasy, creating a sense that something is amiss in a critical arm of the government at a time of global uncertainty," AP reports.

No previous administration has had more that one acting defense secretary, though the resignation of President Trump's second consecutive acting secretary, Mark Esper — who took over from acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan when he abruptly resigned in June — is supposed to be temporary. Esper is legally required to step aside when he begins his Senate confirmation process next Tuesday, and in that period Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will fill in as acting Pentagon chief.

"Even our foes" expect more stability from the U.S. military, former Defense Secretary William Cohen told AP. "There will inevitably be increasing uncertainty regarding which officials have which authority, which undermines the very principle of civilian control of the military," and "other countries — both allies and adversaries — will have considerable doubt about the authority granted to an acting secretary of defense both because of the uncertainty of confirmation as well as the worry that even being a confirmed official does not seem to come with the needed sense of permanence or job security in this administration." Peter Weber

7:40 p.m.

President Trump declared via Twitter on Sunday that he will designate anti-fascism activists as terrorists.

Under the law, Trump does not have the authority to do so, Mary McCord, a former head of the Department of Justice's National Security Division, told The New York Times. "If such a statute were passed, it would face serious First Amendment challenges," she said, adding that currently, the only terrorist authority is for foreign organizations.

Protests continued across the United States on Sunday against police brutality, and in the evening, Trump simply tweeted, "LAW & ORDER!" This is a turn from earlier this month, when Trump supported protesters in Michigan, including many who were armed, that decried restrictions placed on businesses because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien have all painted left-wing anti-fascist protesters — also known as antifa — as agitators, with O'Brien saying on Sunday's This Week that "it's the violent antifa radical militants that are coming out under cover of night, traveling across state lines, using military-style tactics to burn down our cities."

In response, host George Stephanopoulos told O'Brien, "The Department of Homeland Security, which reports to you, has put out intelligence notes over the weekend warning that domestic terrorists from the far-right and the far-left, both, are looking to exploit this. It's not just antifa and the left, they're saying they're worried about the far right as well." Catherine Garcia

1:07 p.m.

President Trump continued his trend of commenting on current affairs on Twitter this weekend as protests against police brutality take place across the country, but he's mostly stayed out of the physical spotlight.

The White House on Sunday declared a lid, which means no one should expect to see or hear from the president for the rest of the day, and ABC News reports there's a growing divide within the Trump administration about how Trump should respond to the situation. Some of his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, don't think there's any political benefit to Trump addressing the nation from the Oval Office since the few times he's done so haven't turned out so great, ABC News reports. But others, like White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, believe it's a chance for Trump to show that he's a strong leader and a unifier in a fashion similar to former President George H.W. Bush during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

One person who doesn't want to hear the president speak is Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Bottoms said Sunday she hopes Trump remains quiet, arguing he'd likely only make a difficult time even worse. Tim O'Donnell

12:26 p.m.

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien still believes it's just "a few bad apples" within U.S. law enforcement agencies that have caused problems leading up to the current nationwide unrest, like the Minneapolis police officer who put his knee on George Floyd's neck earlier this week before Floyd died in custody.

CNN's Jake Tapper asked O'Brien on Sunday if he believed systemic racism was at the heart of issues plaguing American law enforcement. O'Brien said he doesn't believe that's the case, arguing that 99.9 percent of officers are "great Americans" and his "heroes." The officers who don't fall into that category, he said, "need to be rooted out."

O'Brien isn't alone in feeling this way — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently made a similar argument. But, ABC News' Pierre Thomas, who is black, offered a different opinion Sunday. While he did agree with O'Brien that the majority of the nation's police officers are good people who work very trying jobs, he said the issue isn't only centered around police brutality. Rather, what's driving the protests are the "indignities black men and women and people of color face all the time," explaining that, among other things, he's been pulled over simply for driving a nice car multiple times. "I think we're at a point where people are saying 'we're sick and tired of being sick and tired,'" he said. Tim O'Donnell

11:17 a.m.

Protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd have drawn large crowds in dozens of major cities across the United States and internationally in London and Berlin. This has many — including those who have voiced their support for the movement — fearing that a new spike in coronavirus cases could be just around the coroner, The Associated Press reports.

Many demonstrators are wearing masks, but the crowd sizes make social distancing challenging, and public health experts have also pointed out the virus is spread by droplets released when people cough, sneeze, sing, or talk. Chanting, of course, is a common practice at protests. Add in the fact the virus appears to spread even among asymptomatic carriers, and their worries certainly make sense.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said people who attended the protests this weekend "probably need to go get a COVID test this week," while also warning that the pandemic "that's killing black and brown people at higher numbers" won't pause for the protests. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

10:53 a.m.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon, carrying American astronauts Bob Behnke and Doug Hurley, successfully docked with the International Space Station on Sunday after a 19-hour journey from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mission, run jointly by SpaceX and NASA, was the first crewed space flight launched from U.S. soil since 2011 and the first ever orchestrated by a private company.

The Crew Dragon arrived at the station a few minutes early, and Hurley and Behnken are now conducting a series of pressure and leak checks to ensure their safety before they open the hatch and enter the station. The flight went as planned, and the astronauts said the capsule performed beautifully, per The Associated Press. Watch the docking below and follow along as Behnke and Hurley prepare to enter the station here. Tim O'Donnell

8:39 a.m.

One of the most striking scenes from Saturday's nationwide police brutality protests occurred when New York Police Department vehicles were seen driving into a crowd of protesters, some of whom were holding onto a barricade in front of one the trucks.

It is unclear if there were any injuries. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in on the incident, saying that he wished the officers "hadn't done that," but they "were being surrounded by a violent crowd" and "if those protesters had just gotten out of the way," the "troubling" moment never would have happened.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was not pleased with the mayor's response, deeming it "unacceptable," especially since the police department ultimately falls under his leadership (although the police union hasn't always taken too kindly to the mayor, either). DeBlasio, she added, needed to "de-escalate" the situation. Tim O'Donnell

8:13 a.m.

President Trump isn't considered a big fan of multilateral diplomacy, and he's often willing to set a separate course for the United States and operate outside the traditional international system. But, when it comes to the Group of Seven, the U.S. president actually want to expand the talks to include several other countries.

Trump on Saturday postponed the G-7 summit, which he had hoped to host in Washington, D.C., at the end of June, until at least September. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to commit to attending over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, but Trump didn't indicate their potential absences were the primary reasons for his decision.

Instead, Trump said he believes the current group of countries — the U.S., Germany, Canada, Great Britain, France, Japan, and Italy — is "outdated" and doesn't represent "what's going on in the world." He said he plans to extend invitations to Australia, South Korea, India, and Russia. The latter will likely prove the most controversial; Russia was expelled from what was then the Group of Eight in 2014 over Moscow's annexation of Crimea, and other G-7 leaders have continually rejected Trump's efforts to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin back into the fold.

Per Reuters, it seems one of the factors motivating Trump to expand the invite list is so the countries can discuss China, which he's grown increasingly critical of in the wake of the pandemic and its efforts to curtail Hong Kong's autonomy. Read more at CNN and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

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