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Israel, UAE agree to normalize ties in what Trump calls ‘historic’ agreement

President Donald Trump said in a surprise announcement Thursday that Israel and the United Arab Emirates had agreed to normalize relations and that, as part of the deal, Israel would not annex parts of the West Bank it currently occupies.

“Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalize their diplomatic relations,” Trump said, surrounded by aides in the Oval Office. “They will exchange embassies and ambassadors and begin cooperation across the board and on a broad range of areas including tourism, education, healthcare, trade and security.”

In a joint statement, Trump, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the UAE’s ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said that the “historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region.”

PHOTO: This combination of pictures shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. (AFP via Getty Images)

Delegations from Israel and the UAE “will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit,” the leaders said in the statement, released Thursday morning.

“Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead,” Trump said.

While the president lauded the deal as a “peace agreement,” the UAE stopped short of using that terminology and instead emphasized the fact that Israel had committed to not annex parts of the West Bank. Netanyahu had been contemplating doing so in recent months, using a peace proposal released by the White House earlier this year to support the move — which had drawn condemnation across the world.

MORE: President Trump unveils Middle East peace plan embraced by Israel, rejected by Palestinians

In his first comment on the agreement, Prince Mohammed wrote on Twitter that “an agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories.”

“The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship,” the crown prince added.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump smiles in the Oval Office at the White House, Aug. 13, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
PHOTO: President Donald Trump smiles in the Oval Office at the White House, Aug. 13, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

But later Thursday, Netanyahu referred to Israel’s annexation plans as temporarily paused. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner declined to say what “temporary” meant.

“Somewhere between a long time and a short time,” Kushner, whom the president had tasked with solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said, when asked by a reporter at the White House.

Israel has formal diplomatic ties with just two other Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, with which it signed peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

But it has also come to cooperate in recent years with Gulf Arab states, including the UAE — unofficially — in large part on security matters related to what they view as a shared enemy in Iran.

Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, have pushed Arab and Muslim states to hold off normalizing ties with Israel until the Jewish state resolves its conflict with the Palestinian people. They called Thursday’s announcement a “betrayal” by the UAE.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called an emergency meeting to discuss the announcement, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump welcomes Crown Prince Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates, for a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, on May 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: President Donald Trump welcomes Crown Prince Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan of United Arab Emirates, for a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, on May 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images, FILE)

A spokesman for Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said that the agreement amounted to “treason” and that it should be retracted, according to the Associated Press. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said the deal was a “stabbing in the back of our people,” according to the AP.

Trump’s top national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said the president “has not forgotten” the Palestinians, but Kushner said “a lot of people in the region are seeing that we can’t wait for the Palestinian leadership to try and resolve this.”

“Every country is going to do what’s in their best interest, what’s in the region’s best interest, and we have big problems in the world and we can’t be stuck in the past,” Kushner said. “We have to be moving forward.”

In their joint statement Thursday, Trump, Netanyahu and Prince Mohammed said Israel and the UAE would “immediately expand and accelerate cooperation regarding the treatment of and the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus.”

MORE: Timing of Mideast peace plan rollout appears designed to contrast with impeachment trial: ANALYSIS

At the White House, Trump called the agreement “historic” and said it would be called the Abraham Accord, which the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, explained was intended to signal “the potential for unity” among Muslims, Jews and Christians.

“I wanted it to be called the Donald J. Trump Accord, but I didn’t think the press would understand that,” Trump said to laughter from his aides. “So, I didn’t do that.”

Asked if he supported Israel annexing Palestinian land, Trump said “we’re talking to Israel about that right now,” without elaborating. Later, asked during a news conference how long Israel would suspend its annexation plan, Trump deferred to Friedman, who was sitting nearby.

“How long that takes, I can’t tell you, but that’s — we prioritize peace over the sovereignty movement,” he said. “But it’s not off the table, it’s just something that will be deferred until we give peace every single chance.

Trump promised “an official signing at the White House over the next few weeks,” later saying he thought it would happen within three weeks.

Such a ceremony, if it happened, would come just a couple months before the Nov. 3 vote in which Americans render a verdict on whether Trump should have a second term as president.

Trump has long pitched himself as a dealmaker, but in three and a half years as president has overseen few major international agreements.

His proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which he unveiled in January, was immediately rejected by the Palestinians and has yet to produce any movement.

On Thursday, Kushner, who oversaw the development of that plan, said he did not know when such a deal could be reached.

“I don’t know if it will happen tomorrow,” Kushner said. “I don’t know if it’ll happen next month. I don’t know if it’ll happen next year. But at some point, we always learn with deals that there’s a thing called gravity.”

But announcing the Israel-UAE agreement, Trump’s aides lavished him with praise.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the President is eventually nominated for a Nobel Prize,” the president’s top national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told reporters Thursday. “Today’s work is an example of why he would be rightly considered and should be a front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

ABC News’ Nasser Atta contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

Israel, UAE agree to normalize ties in what Trump calls ‘historic’ agreement originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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A new, improved PPP coronavirus loan program is in the works

The Paycheck Protection Program stood out as an early success of the government’s pandemic relief effort, but it ended with a whimper and left billions of dollars unallocated when small businesses got spooked by the ever-changing rules.

Even as Democrats and Republicans fight over other aspects of another major stimulus bill, they have largely agreed on how to revamp the PPP to restore its popularity and usefulness.

But groups representing the smallest business owners — independent contractors, the self-employed and minority-owned businesses who complained they were largely shut out of the earlier rounds of funding and for whom these changes are meant to help — are already questioning whether it will be enough.

For starters, they note that both the old and the proposed new PPP are run by the Small Business Administration, which works with businesses with as many as 500 workers, has less experience with companies with fewer than 100, and almost none with those with one or a handful of employees.

The bulk of America’s small businesses have fewer than 20 employees, but they didn’t get the bulk of the earlier PPP money and aren’t sure they’ll do better under a revised program still run by the SBA, advocates say.

“The vast majority of business owners who need and want to be able to access PPP are not the typical SBA small-business borrowers,” said Katie Vlietstra, vice president for the National Assn. for the Self-Employed.

For small businesses that already received one of the forgivable PPP loans, there is some good news about a possible PPP relaunch: They may be able to get a second loan, something not permitted in the original rules. That could be a lifeline for businesses that burned through the initial 24 weeks of payroll support.

“The expectation, I think, when all this was done months ago was that we’d be out of this crisis by now,” said Alfredo Ortiz, president of Job Creators Network, a small-business advocacy group. “These small-business owners are just running out of cash.”

In total, more than 5.1 million businesses got PPP funds before lending ended Aug. 8. The government says 51 million jobs were saved. S&P Global estimates it is closer to 13.6 million.

When the program began, $349 billion flowed out the door in less than two weeks. But the early successes were soon replaced by outrage and confusion. The public was frustrated to hear of large publicly traded companies like Potbelly or Shake Shack receiving loans.

Commercial banks tasked with distributing the money gave priority to their existing customers, leaving small businesses without a strong banking relationship scrambling to compile the needed application paperwork as the money flowed to larger businesses.

Meanwhile, rules governing how the money could be spent changed weekly, at times daily, casting doubt on what terms businesses would have to meet to have the loans forgiven. Demand plummeted. Even an extension of the program in June wasn’t enough to renew interest. While more small loans were processed in the second round than in the first, more than $126 billion was left on the table when the program ended.

“The people who haven’t applied are either disaffected, they don’t think they’ll get it, or they think if they get it they’ll be on the hook for it. And I think a lot of them have probably let go of their employees,” said Cathie Mahon, president of Inclusiv, a national organization representing lenders in low-income communities.

She said the revamp must provide clarity for businesses on exactly what they need to do to ensure the loan is forgiven before they begin taking loans, she said.

“You just can’t make decisions on maybe, maybe not,” Mahon said.

Republicans and Democrats agree the program should focus on smaller businesses, and very small and minority-owned businesses should be prioritized.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good package, and I’ve worked hard on it with Sen. [Benjamin L.] Cardin” (D-Md.), said Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “I’m not saying he’s signed off to our package, but it reflects a lot of our joint priorities and we’re pretty close.”

Republicans want to target businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have seen sales decline by 35% or more, and to set aside $10 billion for community and rural banks to lend. Democrats want to focus on those with fewer than 100 employees that have seen sales decline by 50% or more. Both want to set aside up to $25 billion for businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Republicans want to set up a new long-term government-backed loan program through private banks. Democrats say the existing Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which is a loan directly from the government to small businesses, could be modified to do that. Republicans say 60% of new loans should be spent on payroll. Democrats don’t specify in their bill. Both want to make it simpler to apply and to get the loans forgiven.

“I don’t think we need a lot of time to resolve our differences, and our staffs are working very closely together,” said Cardin, the highest ranking Democrat on the committee.

After failing to get loans under the previous PPP rules, some small businesses, especially those with fewer than 10 employees, may need to be convinced that they’ll have a shot at the money if they apply, Ortiz said.

“I think there needs to be some marketing that takes place on this,” Ortiz said. “People have a little hesitancy right now that needs to be overcome.”

For the nation’s smallest businesses — many of which are Black-owned and have no employees — even the changes Congress is proposing may not be enough, said Ron Busby Sr., president of U.S. Black Chambers.

An estimated 41% of Black-owned businesses have permanently closed since the pandemic began, he said. But Congress has an opportunity to learn from the mistakes in the first round that left them out. He recommends offering grants, not forgivable loans, and having the money distributed through lenders focusing on low-income communities, Black-owned banks and credit unions.

“There needs to be tighter control of who gets the funds and how the funds are going to be used,” Busby said. “[Local lenders] know how to get to the businesses that need the funds.”

Self-Help Federal Credit Union in Oakland used its existing relationships with community-oriented economic development groups to help businesses that haven’t gotten a loan before and needed a bit more help to fill out their PPP applications over the summer, said Purvi Patel, special projects manager.

“Some of this stuff feels overwhelming, especially for a small nonprofit in the Central Valley with three or four employees or an arts nonprofit in L.A.,” Patel said.

Jase Rex, 51, chief executive of Hot Section Technologies, a federally certified aircraft repair station, worked with an economic development group and his local bank to get a $180,000 loan in early May that allowed him to keep paying his 18 employees.

But he said he wouldn’t qualify for a second loan if he must show a drop of 50% in sales.

“We’re experiencing a slow descent,” he said.

For Carlos Ortez, 58, owner of Un Solo Sol in Los Angeles, PPP’s requirement that 60% of the loan be used for payroll fails to consider the other bills that have to be paid to keep his restaurant open. For him, bills such as insurance and utilities may be as much as payroll, and while he’s grateful that the $23,700 loan he received in June allowed him to pay two of his four employees, he’d like to see more flexibility.

“If we don’t pay the bills, eventually we will be kicked out,” Ortez said.

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Biden won’t rule out naming donors as envoys, despite critics

“As a principle, I strongly disagree with the idea that, if you give money during the campaign, you’ll be rewarded with a job later,” said Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration. “Most certainly at this moment in time, when morale has been incredibly eroded in the foreign service, it doesn’t send the right signal.”

The Biden campaign declined to cooperate on this story, and it would not answer questions about whether it had any upcoming announcements on ambassadorships or specifics on how it plans to reinvigorate U.S. diplomacy.

But when Biden was asked about the ambassadorship issue in December, he wouldn’t rule out giving the roles to big-time donors and bundlers. He insisted, however, that anyone he appoints would be qualified for the job.

“I’m going to appoint the best people possible,” the former vice president said at the time. “Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed.”

Presidential candidates often promise to appoint the most qualified people to top jobs, but once in office find a cozy embassy spot offers an appealing way to reward moneyed supporters. How much harm could they really do, the thinking goes? Obama doled out ambassadorships to dozens of campaign donors, while Trump has taken the practice to new extremes.

So Biden’s vague assurances do not comfort foreign policy veterans hoping he will seize the moment to make a paradigm shift.

“We criticize Trump endlessly for using tools of the state for his own personal political gain at the cost of our national interest,” said Elizabeth Shackelford, a former U.S. diplomat who resigned from the foreign service in protest of Trump administration policies. “And if we’re being honest, appointing high-dollar donors to ambassadorships can only fairly be described as this type of activity. This is the time to show leadership on that front.”

‘A fundamental brokenness’

Several of Trump’s donor-ambassadors have embroiled the administration in scandal, highlighting the perils of relying on amateur diplomats.

Chief among them is Gordon Sondland, Trump’s now-ousted ambassador to the European Union, who was nominated to the post after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier, became a key figure in the Ukraine affair that led to Trump’s impeachment trial and subsequent acquittal when he began coloring outside the lines of State Department diplomatic procedure.

Last month, reports emerged that New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, a Trump donor serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, faces accusations of racism and sexism. He’s also alleged to have acted on a Trump request to try to persuade the United Kingdom to move the British Open to a Trump golf property. Johnson has denied wrongdoing.

Also recently, CBS News reported that the U.S. ambassador to Iceland, Trump donor Jeffrey Ross Gunter, had asked to carry a gun in the unusually safe country and cycled through several deputies in a matter of months. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gunter tried to do the job from California instead of Reykjavik, returning only after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted, CBS reported.

One reason career U.S. diplomats had hoped Biden would take a bolder stance on ambassadors is that one of his rivals in the Democratic primary, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, did so.

“I won’t give ambassadorial posts to wealthy donors or bundlers — period,” Warren said in a plan she released about rebuilding the State Department. She called on the other candidates to commit to the same ideal. Biden demurred.

By not taking a position similar to Warren’s, current and former U.S. officials said, Biden is indicating he’s a creature of old Washington habits.

Most of the dozen current and former U.S. officials and diplomats approached for this story declined to go on the record. Some are hoping to get positions in a Biden administration and are wary of upsetting him or his aides. Some are so desperate to defeat the Republican incumbent in the White House that they don’t think it’s worth slapping Biden with the issue of ambassadors given everything else they say is at stake.

“We’re all just so shell-shocked by Trump,” a former U.S. ambassador said.

But even as current and former diplomats say they doubt Biden will set a new standard and not hand out ambassadorships to the rich, they are more hopeful that he will at least reduce the number of berths given to people who are not in the foreign service.

Prior to Trump, most modern presidents gave around 70 percent of ambassadorships to career diplomats, and 30 percent to outside political appointees, including wealthy donors. Trump is on track to devote more than 40 percent of positions to outsiders, according to statistics from the American Foreign Service Association, a union representing U.S. diplomats.

“I do think this is a moment to be bold,” the former U.S. ambassador said. “I do hope Biden will do better than 70-30.”

AFSA President Eric Rubin said Biden should follow the requirements of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which he noted indicates that “political appointments as ambassador should be rare, and that all nominees must be fully qualified. That is the law of the land.”

But few presidents have paid attention to the nuances of that law. Even Obama, who promised to bring hope and change to Washington, was unable to escape the money-to-ambassadorship trap. He nominated dozens of high-dollar donors and fundraisers to posts overseas. Some proved very good. Others did not fare well; some had to resign amid allegations of poor management.

Generally speaking, U.S. diplomats say they are fine with an administration that taps some outside experts as political appointees for ambassadorships.

McFaul is often cited as such an example: He’s a student of Russia who was viewed as a solid envoy in a difficult post. He was not a major donor to Obama, and, prior to being named ambassador, he served as senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council.

Some current and former diplomats said they’d like to see the percentage of political appointees fall as low as 10 percent, if not zero. Few thought that was realistic, though, despite the desire for radical change following the Trump years.

The United States is unusual in how it hands out ambassadorships; most advanced democracies rely almost exclusively on trained career diplomats.

Several current and former U.S. diplomats stressed that their opposition to naming campaign donors as ambassadors didn’t extend to people who gave small sums. But while they admitted that there are some high-dollar donors and fundraisers who may also be qualified to serve as an ambassador, some argued that the mere perception that they bought the seat means they should be barred.

At the same time, a few pointed to a surprising reason it can be helpful to have a wealthy person placed in certain ambassadorships: Unlike most career diplomats, high-dollar donors can afford to throw lavish parties and otherwise entertain guests in expensive posts like London and Paris. The State Department’s meager budget can’t cover what’s needed to schmooze foreign diplomats, so wealthy envoys tap their personal funds.

Typically, the tough, unglamorous posts — especially those in Africa and parts of Asia — are handed to the career professionals, while posh ambassadorships in Europe and more developed regions are given to top donors and fundraisers.

Some foreign countries may find it helpful to have political appointees as the U.S. ambassador, especially if such envoys can more easily dial up the Oval Office. Critics, however, said that speaks to longstanding flaws in how the U.S. tackles foreign policy — a system that appears to value connections more than merit and need.

“It gets to a fundamental brokenness,” said Stephen Miles, executive director of the advocacy group Win Without War. “The reality is that the ambassadors who probably most need to talk to the president are the ones in hot spots like Baghdad or Kabul, and that’s not going to be the political donors.”

In all fairness, the system dates to the early days of the republic. Benjamin Franklin, after all, fell into the political appointee category when he was U.S. ambassador to France.

But Miles and other progressives who have been pressing Biden on multiple fronts to break with past habits say it’s long past time to rethink
what’s always been done.

“How much are we simply going back to the world before Trump, and how much are we using this opportunity to rethink what was broken before Trump came into office?” Miles asked.

Reviving the Foreign Service

Deciding not to give ambassadorships to big donors and fundraisers is, relatively speaking, an easy move. It doesn’t require legislation or an executive order or convincing a large constituency. It’s just Biden’s choice.

And his unwillingness to make that choice has perplexed U.S. diplomatic veterans, some of whom ask versions of, “If not now, when?”

They note that, as a recently released report by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee argues, foreign service and civil service officers at the State Department are in crisis under Trump.

“Employees report that their morale and their confidence in their senior leaders, have dropped precipitously,” read the report, which cited surveys, news reports and other sources. “Many are far more fearful today than they were three years ago to report a violation of law, and are equally afraid they will be subjected to reprisal.”

Under Trump, lingering vacancies across the State Department, hiring freezes and the administration’s distrust of career government staffers have meant fewer chances for foreign service members to advance, several of the diplomats pointed out.

If Biden is serious about reinvigorating U.S. diplomacy as he claims, he needs to show to career diplomats that they will have more opportunities, they said.

“If you want to rebuild the State Department you have to make sure that your senior foreign service officers have legitimate possibilities to make ambassador,” one senior U.S. diplomat said. “That’s the acknowledged culmination of a successful career and the possibility helps motivate excellence throughout the ranks — though it’s not the only reason, of course.”

A former U.S. diplomat put it more bluntly: “It’s totally un-American to have people slave away for years to gain the skills to do this, and others just write a check and show up.”

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Trump advisers hesitated to give military options and warned adversaries over fears he might start a war

“We used to only think of Kim Jong Un as unpredictable. Now we had Trump as unpredictable,” Joseph Yun, who served as President Trump’s special representative for North Korea policy until 2018, told me. “And I would communicate that.”

Yun recalled that during the worsening standoff with North Korea in 2017, the Pentagon hesitated to give the President a broad range of military options, concerned that he might indeed order a major military attack on the North.

“You had to be careful what options you gave him,” he said. “We were being very cautious, because any options you put out there, he could use them.”

That frustrated the White House. “The White House viewed it as ‘Goddamnit! The President is looking for all options!'” Yun recalled. But the Pentagon, under Defense Secretary James Mattis at least, didn’t budge.

Later Trump decided diplomacy was the way forward and met for two historic summits with Kim, even telling a 2018 rally in West Virginia that the “two fell in love.”

A senior White House official told CNN that on North Korea “it was the President who at every turn has encouraged diplomacy over escalation. He took the historic step of meeting with KJU in person to encourage de-escalation.”

‘Is this a joke?’ Pentagon dumbfounded by Iran military options request

Again in 2019, as the President and his team were considering military options against Iran in response to escalating attacks in the Persian Gulf, senior Pentagon officials made clear both to US partners in the region and to Tehran that they could not predict how and where Trump would respond, or if he would respond at all.

“We told allies that we did not know what the President would be willing to do against Iran,” Mick Mulroy, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East until 2019, recalled. “It was possible he could make a decision that would lead to an escalation of the conflict, and that escalation could lead to war, so they needed to relay that to Iran so they realized not even his staff knew what would happen if they attacked another oil facility, for instance.”

These warnings were part of a longer-term effort to contain some of the President’s worst impulses when confronted with military action abroad. Earlier, in September 2018, when a handful of mortar shells struck near the US Embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone causing no casualties or serious damage, Pentagon officials were surprised when they received a call from a senior official on the National Security Council demanding military options for the President to retaliate against Iran. That NSC official said the President wanted to know immediately how and when the United States could respond.

“The NSC called us in on a Sunday,” a former senior US official told me. “[The NSC official] was basically telling us we had to have military options against Iran, today, on that day.”

Pentagon officials were dumbfounded. On a conference call with the White House, which included the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, Selva muted the line on the Pentagon’s end and turned to his colleagues in disbelief.

“He said, ‘Is this a joke? They really want us to propose direct military action into Iran, against Iran, based on this?'” the same former senior US official told me.” And I said, ‘No, we’ve been dealing with this all morning. Have they spent any time in Iraq?’ This is a constant thing.”

When they got off the call, General Selva and Secretary Rood made it clear to their colleagues they would not be providing the White House with any military options unless directed explicitly by the President himself.

“There’s no way we’re going to provide the NSC military options for this,” the former senior US official recalled their saying. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Saudi Crown Prince accused of assassination plot against senior exiled official

That “urgent” request from the White House did not last. “It just died after that,” the official remembered.

A handful of mortars. One forceful demand for military options. Then silence. It was just the first of many times the NSC would reach out to the Pentagon for military options against Iran, without warning and without the normal interagency process to determine if a military response was warranted or wise.

The aftermath of those wayward mortars in September 2018 began a months-long policy-making seesaw with Trump and Iran, alternating between urgency and inaction, threat and retreat. On which side would Trump emerge? And did he have a strategy?

In June 2019, President Trump would balk at retaliation for Iran’s shootdown of a US drone over international airspace, calling off military action with US warplanes already in the air. That September, he also decided against retaliation after an Iranian attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia which temporarily shut down half of Saudi oil production.

“‘Well, [the President] didn’t want to do it, so we’re done,'” Mulroy recalled. “The first time that happened, I think there was kind of a sigh of relief. The second time, I think there was shock. So it’s like ‘What do you mean, we’re not doing anything? I mean, we’ve got to do something.'”

Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator who served as Defense Secretary under President Barack Obama said the situation was unprecedented.

“In all my years dealing with national security and intelligence and foreign policy I’ve never heard any senior military leaders express concern about a president’s decision-making,” Hagel said.

“When I was Secretary of Defense my Pentagon colleagues and I always knew that President Obama had studied the issues, was well informed and wanted our opinions and recommendations. He listened to those charged with national security experience,” he added.

NFL owner and Trump ambassador to UK sparks watchdog inquiry over allegations of racist and sexist remarks and push to promote Trump business

“The President’s foreign policy — particularly in the Middle East, has been defined by taking strong action when necessary (see strikes in Syria in 2018), deescalating to avoid protracted conflicts (draw down in Afghanistan, taking a lesser response to Iran.) However, make no mistake — the President will take decisive action when it warrants to protect US interests,” the senior White House official said.

Trump did eventually take military action against Iran, ordering the killing of the country’s most senior General Qasem Solemaini in a drone strike on Baghdad airport in January of this year. Iran retaliated by striking a US base in Iraq, injuring dozens of US service members, but at least up until now tensions have alleviated. Had the US launched an attack on Iranian soil, many feared an all-out war was possible.

‘It wasn’t a ploy’

Trump’s unpredictability is something that permeated official US interactions with the leaders of countries across the globe—from Iran to Syria to North Korea to Canada and Mexico to NATO allies.

“The general concept was discussed, not as a strategy we deliberately adopted, but rather as something we pointed out as a matter of fact,” said Mulroy. “The thing is, it wasn’t a ploy,” he explained. “I think both allies and enemies realize that his decision process was unpredictable even to those advising him up to and including the secretary of defense and national security adviser.”

Trump’s capriciousness left the advisers responsible for virtually every corner of the globe guessing.

“I had many meetings where my counterparts would ask, ‘Can we really believe what you’re saying? On whose behalf are you speaking?'” said Fiona Hill, President Trump’s former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council and key witness during the impeachment investigation of the President in November 2019. “This makes the US a capricious partner for anyone who is interacting with us as a collective.”

Trump’s unpredictability was not a national secret. US adversaries were keenly aware that his own advisers and the institutions and agencies they lead were often in the dark about the President’s intentions and therefore sought to take advantage, said Susan Gordon, who served as the United States’ second-highest-ranking intelligence official as principal deputy director of national intelligence.

“Our partners, adversaries, and competitors know we don’t know the next play,” Gordon said.

With any other president or any other administration, such deliberate unpredictability might be seen as a flaw, identifying it as a criticism. But in the view of Trump and his most devout supporters, his unpredictability is a keen negotiator’s strength to be lauded.

“For him, the unpredictability is a card that he liked having,” said Yun.

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DHS Reassigns Official Following Intelligence Reports On Journalists, Protesters : NPR

A journalist runs past federal officers after during a protest against racial injustice in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 30, 2020 in Portland, Ore.

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A journalist runs past federal officers after during a protest against racial injustice in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 30, 2020 in Portland, Ore.

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The Department of Homeland Security has reassigned its top intelligence official, according to media outlets, following news that his office compiled intelligence reports on journalists and protesters in Portland, Ore.

Brian Murphy, who has been the acting undersecretary for the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, was removed from the position, according to the Washington Post, which was first to report the news.

In the days leading up to Murphy’s removal, The Post broke news that the DHS had circulated three “Open Source Intelligence Reports” to federal law enforcement agencies. The publication says the reports describe tweets from two journalists — a reporter for The New York Times and the top editor of the blog Lawfare — “noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland.”

Murphy has reportedly been moved to an administrative support role within the department’s management directorate.

The call for Murphy’s removal was made by acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Friday, who, following the Post‘s revelations, instructed the office to stop collecting information on the press and ordered an investigation into its proceedings.

In another intelligence report, according to the newspaper, the DHS had tracked and documented exchanges between protestors found on the Telegram messaging app.

Murphy had previously denied his office had access to protesters’ devices and messages, according to the Post.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff issued a statement Saturday saying the committee had been conducting an investigation into Murphy and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis for more than two weeks before the reassignment.

“In light of recent public reports, we are concerned that Murphy may have provided incomplete and potentially misleading information to Committee staff during our recent oversight engagement, and that the Department of Homeland Security and I&A are now delaying or withholding underlying intelligence products, legal memoranda, and other records requested by the Committee that could shed light on these actions,” Schiff said.

He added that his committee would be “expanding” its oversight in the coming days.

Murphy’s removal fuels criticism around the DHS, which has been under heavy scrutiny in recent weeks for its use of federal officers at Portland protests. Agents from various departments within Homeland Security were deployed to the city to protect federal property during the ongoing protests for racial justice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.

The federal agents have clashed with protesters. Earlier in July, Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli acknowledged that federal agents had used unmarked vehicles to pick up people in Portland. He said the action was meant to keep officers safe and away from crowds. He later said in a letter to Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee that his office would be investigating allegations that law enforcement officers from his agency “improperly detained and transported protesters.”

On July 23, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon issued a restraining order Thursday preventing federal agents from “arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force” directed at anyone they know to be a journalist or legal observer, unless they have probable cause to believe they have committed a crime.

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A Desperate Trump Might Be Willing to Ditch Mitch McConnell’s Top Stimulus Priority

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has one, big, top priority for the next coronavirus rescue package: stopping sick people from suing their bosses.

But President Trump might throw Mitch’s cherished proposal out the window. 

Trump is willing to cut a deal with Democrats without any so-called “liability shield” in the next pandemic response bill, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing two unnamed people with knowledge of internal White House planning. 

Ditching Mitch’s top goal would be a slap in the face to the wily Senate majority leader, who protected Trump during his impeachment trial last winter. McConnell has declared his radical plan to shield companies from most legal challenges over COVID-19 to be his “red line.” He says companies need special protections to avoid getting hammered under a hailstorm of lawsuits by workers claiming they were put in risky situations. 

“We’re not negotiating over liability protection,” McConnell insisted Tuesday.

But Trump’s waffling is just the latest sign of chaos among top-level Republicans over what to do next about the pandemic. And it’s a new point of friction between Trump and GOP members of Congress as Trump’s approval ratings for handling the pandemic slip in the polls. 

Some companies have already been sued over allegations like gross negligence or wrongful death, including Walmart, Safeway and Tyson Foods. But legal experts say they suspect far more litigation might still be looming on the horizon. 

GOP senators made the “liability shield” a centerpiece of the plan they unveiled Monday, in a proposal that would make it all but impossible for employees to sue companies that recklessly expose them to the novel coronavirus. 

But Republican senators expressed concern and confusion over their own draft plan. Then they skipped town for a long weekend, at a moment when existing federal crisis programs — including $600-weekly unemployment insurance payments and a moratorium on evictions — have just expired, with no plan for a near-term fix.  

McConnell has cards left to play. He still controls the Senate floor, and he could block a vote on the bill. 

But he’d face pressure from both Democrats and, possibly, the White House, if he becomes the lone holdout blocking an agreement between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over ways to extend unemployment insurance payments and keep people who’ve lost their jobs during the pandemic from being kicked out of their homes. 

Now, the White House signaling it wants to reach a deal as soon as possible, perhaps out of concern over what might happen to Trump in the 2020 election if they don’t roll out a new plan soon. 

If McConnell’s red line gets smudged, the White House suggested on Friday, that would be McConnell’s problem. 

“That’s a question for Mitch McConnell,” spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said when asked about the liability shield during a briefing Friday morning. “That’s his priority.”

Cover: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listens to questions during a news conference following a GOP policy meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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GOP Congressman Turns Antitrust Hearing Into Personal Tech Support Session

WASHINGTON — We all have trouble with our email sometimes. We don’t typically get to harangue the CEO of Google about why, say, Dad’s Gmail is acting up, though.

You have to be a member of Congress to pull that.

Rep. Greg Steube, Republican from Florida, went there during Wednesday’s high-profile congressional hearing about tech giants’ market dominance and anti-competitive behavior. Handed the chance to throw any question at some of the most powerful people in the world, Steube pressed Google CEO Sundar Pichai to troubleshoot his parents’ recent email issues.

Specifically, they weren’t getting his campaign emails, which Steube seemed to think was because of an anti-conservative bias among Silicon Valley titans. Pichai responded by implying that Steube and his dad don’t understand how Gmail tabs work.

“Suddenly, I get elected to Congress, and I’m now up here in Washington, D.C., and my parents, who have a Gmail account, aren’t getting my campaign emails,” Steube said. “Why is this only happening to Republicans?”

Pichai responded by talking about how Gmail automatically sorts emails by their source, breaking out messages from personal contacts into a folder separate from those sent by self-promoting groups like a congressional campaign.

“We have a tabbed organization,” Pichai said, veering into tech-support mode. “The primary tab has emails from friends and family, and the secondary tab has other notifications, and so on….”

Steube interrupted to point out that it was his dad who complained that the campaign emails weren’t showing up. And that meant Pichai’s statement that the Primary tab should feature all emails from family members didn’t make any sense to him.

“Clearly, that familial thing that you’re talking about didn’t apply to my emails,” Steube said, glossing over the fact that the emails were coming from his campaign, not from his personal account.

“Our systems, probably, are not able to understand that it’s your father,” Pichai deadpanned.

Earlier reporting by The Markup found that political campaign emails regularly end up in other tabs besides primary. The outlet reviewed emails from multiple candidates in the most recent Democratic presidential primary to find that the vast majority of emails from political campaigns do not end up in the “Primary” inbox. That piece found some candidates’ emails appeared to be getting through more readily than others, although it didn’t address the question of liberal vs. conservative bias.

And so it went during Wednesday’s hotly-anticipated congressional inquiry into tech companies’ role in the economy. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee echoed Steube’s suspicions that the tech giants might be harboring an anti-conservative bias, though most refrained from getting into their families’ technical issues.

Democrats declared themselves troubled too, but they appeared bothered more by the sheer size and monopolistic stature of the companies than by any alleged political bias.

“Simply put: They have too much power,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island.

The assembled CEOs, appearing on screens, insisted they brought no political bias to their work and batted back questions about their size and market behavior.

As the afternoon drew to a close, the two sides of the aisle didn’t seem to be coalescing toward any particular bipartisan solution to the problems they saw in Silicon Valley.

And no one quite nailed down what’s going on with Steube’s dad’s emails, either.

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Ask a Reporter: Sarah Wire on Congress and COVID-19 stimulus

Reporter Sarah D. Wire will be live on video Tuesday to answer your questions about covering Congress and the coronavirus stimulus packages.

Sarah will be live on Twitter and Facebook, along with moderator and audience engagement editor Adrienne Shih, to answer your questions about her work, what it’s like to report on Congress, President Trump’s impeachment trial and how her job covering the country’s most powerful leaders has changed with the coronavirus pandemic.

Visit our Twitter profile and Facebook page to share your questions ahead of time and to sign up to receive an alert when the video begins. You may also leave your questions for Sarah in the comments at the bottom of this article.

Here’s some of Sarah’s recent work:

U.S. officials have filed more than a dozen criminal cases in 11 states against business owners accused of cheating the Paycheck Protection Program.

Rebuffed by the Supreme Court in one attempt to tie the census to citizenship, Trump is now trying a new tactic.

Los Angeles Rep. Karen Bass has worked on police abuse issues for 47 years. Now she’s in charge of House effort to enact it into law.

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Gohmert’s coronavirus case sparks renewed debate over Capitol protocols

So far, congressional leaders in both chambers have refused to implement routine testing for lawmakers, even rejecting an offer from the administration to supply rapid tests for members to use. And some senior aides have privately questioned how leadership would require tests when they can’t even get every member to wear a mask.

But some senior lawmakers have continued to push their leaders to adopt a more frequent testing regimen. That includes Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who said Wednesday that he’s told GOP leaders that all members should be tested when they return to the Capitol after a recess “so we’re not carriers coming back and forth.”

“I have said for weeks that I think it’s a good idea for us to be tested,” Alexander added.

While House Democrats implemented proxy voting in an effort to discourage at-risk members from flying back and forth to Washington, Republicans have refused to participate. The result is hundreds of lawmakers traveling from across the country — many coming from hot spots like Florida, Texas and Arizona — to vote and attend committee hearings in person.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi instituted a series of safety measures last month for when lawmakers are inside the Capitol, including a mandate to wear masks during committee hearings and encouraging masks anytime they are in the House chamber, though not all Republicans abide by those rules.

Both chambers also require members to vote in smaller groups to limit the number of people on the floor and frequently sanitize podiums and microphones. The House’s rules, overall, go further than the Senate’s; Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the use of proxy voting on the floor.

But unlike several state legislatures, members and staff are not required to have their temperatures checked before entering the sprawling Capitol complex, nor are they required to be tested for the virus. Even during the previous coronavirus lockdowns across the country, hundreds of people streamed in and out of congressional buildings daily.

Members can get tested through the Capitol physician’s office, and those tests are more available now than they were in the early weeks of the pandemic, lawmakers and aides say.

Hoyer scorched Republicans like Gohmert for not following the guidance of the Capitol physician, including wearing masks, and said more may need to be done because of that to keep other lawmakers and staffers safe.

“Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louie Gohmert. Louie Gohmert ought to quarantine himself right now,” Hoyer said.

Gohmert is one of several Republicans who has openly flouted the request for members to wear masks, despite nine lawmakers testing positive for the coronavirus in recent months. Dozens of staff inside the building, including Capitol Police officers, have also tested positive. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters Gohmert was asymptomatic.

Democrats have publicly rebuked GOP colleagues in recent weeks who have refused to wear masks, at times leading to tense confrontations during hearings. Just on Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler implored some Republicans to follow the rules and wear their mask while in the hearing room with Attorney General William Barr — which several, including ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), openly ignored.