👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ Trump accused Germany of being “totally controlled” and “a captive of Russia” because it pays “billions and billions of dollars a year” to Russia for energy. Germany doesn’t meet its NATO spending commitments, but has started construction on a second natural gas pipeline to Russia. Germany argues that it has increased its contributions to NATO and plans to spend even more on the alliance in the coming years. A few hours later, Trump told reporters that the United States has a “tremendous relationship” with Germany. (Washington Post / NBC News / Politico)
This is the Russian pipeline to Germany that Trump is mad about: an 800-mile-long, planned pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea. The project would roughly double Russia’s gas export volume via the Baltic route. (Washington Post)
2/ Trump wants NATO allies to double their military-spending target to 4% of gross domestic product despite allies not meeting the current 2% target. The 29 members – including the U.S. – agreed to a joint summit declaration to move toward the 2% target by 2024. The U.S. contributes 3.5% of its GDP. (Wall Street Journal)
- NATO Summit Live Updates: Trump Pushes Allies to Increase Spending. (New York Times)
3/ The Senate approved a non-binding motion in support of NATO. The symbolic 97-2 vote expresses the Senate’s support for NATO and calls on negotiators to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to it. (The Hill / Axios)
4/ The Trump administration plans to hit China with roughly $200 billion in additional tariffs. Beijing’s Commerce Ministry said it was “shocked” by the U.S. action and that China “has no choice but to take necessary countermeasures.” Days ago the U.S. imposed 25% tariffs on Chinese goods worth $34 billion, which Beijing immediately responded to with its own tariffs on $34 billion in U.S. goods. The latest tariffs will undergo a two-month review process, with hearings on Aug. 20-23. (CNBC / New York Times / Wall Street Journal / CNN / Politico)
- The Senate voted to give Congress a role in overseeing Trump’s tariff decisions when imposed in the name of national security. The 88-11 vote in favor is non-binding and part of an effort by members of Congress who are concerned that trade disputes with China, western European nations, and Canada could damage the U.S. economy by harming U.S. employers and raising prices for consumers. (Reuters / Washington Post)
5/ The Department of Justice admitted that it may have mistakenly separated a family of U.S. citizens for as long as a year “because the parent’s location has been unknown.” (The Guardian)
U.S. government officials told four immigrant women that they would have to pay for DNA tests in order to be reunited with their children. The tests are part of the Trump administration’s latest effort to reunite families that it had separated at the U.S. southern border. The tests are being administered by a private contractor on behalf of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which the Department of Health and Human Services has refused to name – a possible violation of federal law. (Daily Beast)
Some children have been unable to recognize their mothers when reunited with their families. Other children who had been potty-trained before being separated have regressed back to diapers. (New York Times)
From the moment it went online in 2014, the web portal designed to keep track of unaccompanied children and process their release has experienced major technological problems. Among the issues users have encountered are a limited number of total concurrent users, lost saved data, poor searchability, and significant manual work for minor updates and patches. That same system is now being used as a key part of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s efforts to track the thousands of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s “no tolerance policy.” (Reuters)
6/ Rod Rosenstein asked federal prosecutors to help review the government documents related to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. Rosenstein’s email to the nation’s 93 United States attorneys included the sentence: “We need your help in connection with President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court.” Former law enforcement officials described Rosenstein’s request as “flat-out wrong.” Mitch McConnell privately expressed concerns that Kavanaugh’s years of public service might be used against him in his Senate confirmation hearings. (New York Times)
poll/ 54% of voters think the government should keep ICE, 25% believe ICE should be abolished, and 21% are undecided. (Politico)
Paul Manafort will be moved from the jail where he says he’s being treated like a “VIP” with access to a phone, computer, private bathroom and shower, and does not have to wear a uniform. Manafort filed to delay his July 25 trial, claiming that his incarceration at Virginia’s Northern Neck Regional Jail left him without adequate time to prepare for trial, but resisted being moved to the Alexandria Detention Center. (Washington Post / The Hill)
The Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division despite concerns about his ties to a Russian bank run by oligarchs with close ties to Putin, which was also referenced in the Steele dossier. The 51-48 vote ended an 18-month delay in which the criminal division operated without a permanent leader. (NPR / Washington Post / CNN)
Trump pardoned the two Oregon cattle ranchers who were sentenced to five years in prison for committing arson on federal land — punishments which led to the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge by the Bundy family in 2016. The pardons were the result of a months-long campaign by agricultural groups like the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The White House issued a statement claiming that the Obama administration had been “overzealous” in its pursuit of the cattle ranchers. “This was unjust,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (New York Times)
Pfizer said it would delay drug price increases for no more than six months after speaking with Trump. The conversation came after Trump tweeted that Pfizer and other U.S. drug manufacturers “should be ashamed” for raising prices on some of their medications. (Reuters)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang last week went “as badly as it could have gone.” North Korea accused the U.S. of a “gangster-like mindset” following the denuclearization negotiations. Pompeo described the talks as “productive.” (CNN)
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