Morning Brief

Vote on COVID Relief Checks Could Delay Senate Override of Trump NDAA Veto

Sen. Bernie Sanders is threatening to delay Senate business until a vote is scheduled on sending $2,000 checks to Americans.

The moon rises over the US Capitol Dome at sunset in Washington, DC, December 28, 2020.
The moon rises over the US Capitol Dome at sunset in Washington, DC, December 28, 2020. Saul Loeb/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Senate considers overriding Trump’s defense budget veto, Argentina’s Senate takes up abortion legislation, and what to watch in the world this week.

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Senate Considers Override on Trump NDAA Veto

The U.S. Senate is set to override a presidential veto for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in 2017 in order to move forward the law authorizing the largest defense budget in U.S. history. A vote to override Trump’s veto passed in the House by a 322-87 margin on Monday, exceeding the two-thirds supermajority needed to override the veto.

Trump has issued nine vetoes so far in office, including on Dec. 23 when he described the 2021 the National Defense Authorization Act as a “gift” to China and Russia while failing to respect U.S. military history (the bill would rename military bases honoring losing confederate generals in the U.S. Civil War).

If supported by two-thirds of the Senate, it would be only the sixth veto override this century and the first since the chamber voted to overturn President Barack Obama’s block on legislation effectively allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

Not so fast. Sen. Bernie Sanders is attempting to delay Senate business, including the veto override, in order to force a vote on whether to approve $2,000 stimulus checks for Americans. Through procedural means, Sanders could stop the veto vote from happening until as late as New Year’s Day, both inconveniencing Senators eager to depart Washington and eating into the campaign time of Georgia Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler ahead of crucial runoff elections on Jan. 5.

How did we get here?
Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch explains how a dispute about the influence of social media companies has led to the impasse over the $740 billion defense budget.


The World This Week

On Tuesday, Dec. 29, American Airlines becomes the first airline to fly passengers on the Boeing 737 MAX after two crashes linked to its to automated flight control system grounded the aircraft model in 2019.

On Wednesday, Dec. 30, the British parliament is recalled to vote on Boris Johnson’s trade deal with the European Union.

On Thursday, Dec. 31, the executive order extending a “pause” on processing U.S. immigration visas is due to expire, although it could be extended again.

The Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol—setting a goal of an 18 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels—comes into force.

The Brexit transition period—as mandated in the October 2019 U.K.-EU Withdrawal Agreement—ends.

On Friday, Jan. 1, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers his annual address.

Portugal assumes the rotating presidency of the European Council until the end of June.


What We’re Following Today

Argentina’s Senate considers abortion legislation. Argentina’s Senate is to consider legislation today that would legalize abortion in the country at up to 14 weeks of gestation, making it only the third Latin American country to allow unmitigated access to the procedure. A vote could come as soon as today but is likely to be taken later in the week.

According to the newspaper Clarín, 33 senators support the motion and 32 are opposed, with five undecided. A similar bill was rejected by the Senate in 2018 by 38 votes to 31, despite passing in the lower house.

China reacts to U.S. Taiwan and Tibet resolutions. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was “resolutely opposed” to two new U.S. bills signed into law underlining U.S. support for Tibet and Taiwan. The laws came into effect as part of the omnibus spending bill signed by President Trump on Sunday.

The acts include calls for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations and sanctions against any Chinese officials who interfere with Tibet’s selection of a successor to the Dalai Lama. “The U.S. should never implement any bills or provisions targeting China,” Zhao said.

Saudi rights activist sentenced. A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul to more than five years in prison following an international campaign to grant her leniency. Incoming U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called the sentence “unjust and troubling.”

Prosecuted under Saudi anti-terrorism laws, Hathloul’s charges included seeking to change the Saudi political system, attempting to apply for a United Nations job, and communicating with international rights groups and Saudi activists. Hathloul could be eligible for a conditional release from prison as soon as March, although she remains banned from traveling for five years.

Rohingya refugee relocation continues. Officials in Bangladesh started moving a second group of nearly 1,800 Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char Island on Monday, despite outcry from human rights organizations about the safety of the flood-prone artificial island.

Amnesty International has raised concerns that refugees are being forced to relocate and has called for an assessment of the island’s habitability to take place before any resettlement.


Keep an Eye On

NATO intercepts increase. NATO has reported “an increased level of Russian military air activity” along its borders in recent years as it released figures highlighting air policing activity. NATO jets scrambled to intercept unknown aircraft approaching its airspace more than 400 times in 2020, according to official figures, an increase on the previous year. NATO reported that almost 90 percent of those missions were responding to Russian military flights.

China vs. Jack Ma. Pan Gongsheng, the deputy governor of China’s central bank has ordered Chinese financial technology firm Ant to “strictly rectify illegal credit, insurance and wealth management financial activities,” and “return to its origins” as a payment services operator. The move is the latest to target Jack Ma, the owner of Ant, which had spun off from parent company Alibaba. Chinese regulators blocked Ant’s initial public offering in November after Ma publicly criticized them as outdated. The battle has wiped over $10 billion off Ma’s total wealth, demoting him to China’s second richest man according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

India’s farmer protests. Roughly 1,500 telephone towers have had cables cut and generators stolen across Punjab in recent days, officials said, as the Indian state becomes the epicenter of farmer protests against agriculture reforms. Reliance, the company that operates the towers, is believed to be one of the firms deemed to benefit from the changes to farming regulations. Farm union leaders have denied any role in the vandalism of the towers. Talks between the government and farm unions are to resume on Wednesday.


Odds and Ends 

A Japanese forestry company is partnering with Kyoto University to engineer a solution to the growing problem of space debris: Wooden satellites. Sumitomo Forestry will begin testing wood components that can withstand extreme environments in order to find a suitable candidate for orbit, although the exact materials are an “R&D secret,” the company told the BBC.

The benefit of using wood over traditional metal alloys comes when the satellites reach the end of their lives, researchers say. Wooden components will safely burn in the atmosphere, rather than landing on earth or lingering in space. The World Economic Forum estimates that 6,000 satellites currently orbiting the earth, nearly 60 percent can be classified as space junk.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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