A Top Iran Envoy’s Suspension Raises Eyebrows

Happy Monday! We hope you’re waking up and reading this in a place where the thought of going outside doesn’t fill you with existential dread. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Department of Education announced Friday it plans to discharge a total of $39 billion in federal student loans in the coming weeks, “fixing” income-driven repayment plans for 804,000 borrowers to ensure an “accurate count of the number of monthly payments” those borrowers have made. Under the new rule, any month in which a borrower was in a “repayment status”—even if their payments were partial or late—will be credited toward the borrower’s repayment plan. The move comes just weeks after the Supreme Court held that the Biden administration did not have the authority to unilaterally cancel hundreds of billions of dollars of student loans, and it drew criticism from conservatives as an “unlawful plan” that will “require working American taxpayers to foot the bill.”
  • Russian foreign ministry officials claimed Monday that the Ukrainian military had launched an overnight attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge, the most direct supply line between occupied Crimea and Russian military positions in southern Ukraine. The strike, which Russian officials said killed two people, follows a similar blast last October. Also on Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia had “suspended” its participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered last year to allow Ukraine to continue grain exports to global markets. Wheat prices jumped 3.5 percent on the news. 
  • President Joe Biden issued an executive order last week approving the mobilization of 3,000 reserve troops who could deploy to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not sent any of the 3,000 reservists to Europe yet, but the move was announced as last week’s NATO summit wrapped up and comes a year after the United States deployed 20,000 troops to Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, operations director for the Joint Staff, told reporters the mobilization “reaffirms the unwavering support and commitment to the defense of NATO’s eastern flank in the wake of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war on Ukraine.” 
  • In an interview with Kommersant published late last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed June’s Wagner Group mutiny, claiming he offered Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary fighters the opportunity to continue fighting in Ukraine under a new commander, but that Prigozhin—Wagner chief and mutiny leader—said he and his soldiers wouldn’t agree to that. The Kremlin seems to now be dismantling the private military company: Putin cryptically said it “simply doesn’t exist” even as Wagner mercenaries popped up training soldiers in Belarus over the weekend.
  • The House voted 219-210 on Friday—with four Democrats in favor and four Republicans opposed—to pass a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2024. The $886 billion legislation—which will not become law as-is—would bar the Pentagon from paying for abortion services or providing gender-transition treatments for troops, eliminate Defense Department roles dedicated to diversity and inclusion, and create a new special inspector general for Ukraine security assistance to oversee audits of U.S. aid to the war-torn country. The Senate is currently working on its own version of the legislation, which will then need to be reconciled with the House-passed version before becoming law. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday the House-passed version of the bill is “never getting to the president’s desk.”
  • China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported this morning the country’s gross domestic product grew just 0.8 percent quarter-over-quarter, down from 2.2 percent in Q1 2023. The Chinese economy purportedly grew 5.5 percent year-over-year, but that more respectable figure can largely be attributed to 2022’s limited growth due to rolling COVID-19 shutdowns. Youth unemployment in China also reached an all-time high in June, with more than 1 in 5 people between the ages of 16 and 24 out of a job. The data, if accurate, shows China’s economy is slowing in the face of reduced exports and consumer spending, as well as a wobbly real estate market.
  • British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told the Sunday Times he plans to step down from his post within Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government after serving in the role for four years—and that he’ll step down from parliament after serving as an MP for nearly two decades. Wallace had sought a promotion to NATO secretary-general, but his bid was rebuffed after opposition from Biden.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was rushed to the emergency room at Sheba Medical Center on Saturday after experiencing mild dizziness that his office said was likely the result of dehydration. The 73-year-old was discharged from the hospital yesterday with a holter monitor, a type of portable heart monitor, a few hours after he released a video from the hospital declaring himself to be doing “very good.”
  • Carlos Alcaraz, a 20-year-old Spaniard, defeated tennis legend Novak Djokovic on Sunday to win this year’s Wimbledon Championship. On the women’s side, Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic defeated Ons Jabeur to become the first-ever unseeded woman to win at Wimbledon.

Where’s Malley?

Robert Malley testifies about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action during a hearing  on May 25, 2022. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Robert Malley testifies about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action during a hearing on May 25, 2022. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

There’s a clear current of frustration in the letters winging between Capitol Hill and the State Department as lawmakers seek answers about the suspended security clearance of the administration’s top Iran envoy, Rob Malley. “The Department’s failure to inform Congress of this matter demonstrates at best a lack of candor,” wrote Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “And at worst represents deliberate and potentially unlawful misinformation.”

“The Department is not in a position to provide further documents or information related to this personnel-security clearance matter,” State Department officials wrote back, according to a letter McCaul’s office provided TMD. State cited employee privacy rules, pointing McCaul to the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual.

Malley has been working on U.S. Middle East policy for decades. The Obama campaign dropped him after critics complained he’d met with Hezbollah members as part of his regional analysis research, but he returned to the administration to help broker the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The Biden administration brought him back as special envoy to Iran to lead foundering attempts to revive that deal.

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