Can the U.S. Do More to Help Iranian Protesters?

Happy Friday! If you started as soon as it dropped at midnight and didn’t sleep, you could have listened to Taylor Swift’s new album nine full times before this newsletter was published. [Editor’s note: This was not theoretical for Declan.]

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Legal challenges to the Biden administration’s mass student loan cancellation scheme faced multiple setbacks on Thursday, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett denying a conservative Wisconsin taxpayer group’s request the Supreme Court temporarily block the program and District Court Judge Henry Autrey for the Eastern District of Missouri dismissing a lawsuit brought by six Republican-led states seeking an injunction. Although Autrey—a George W. Bush appointee—agreed the states presented “important and significant challenges to the debt relief plan,” he held that they did not have standing to sue—and Barrett’s denial was for a similar reason. The ruling will allow debt forgiveness—for which more than 12 million Americans have already applied, according to the Biden administration—to start being processed as early as Sunday.
  • Citing the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued an order Thursday directing the Pentagon to establish new transportation allowances for service members and their dependents looking to travel to access “non-covered reproductive health care that is unavailable within the local area of a service member’s permanent duty station.” The order—which also seeks to establish a program to support Pentagon health care providers facing civil or criminal penalties for providing abortions—seeks to head off legal challenges by paying for travel expenses associated with an abortion, rather than for the abortion itself.
  • A three-judge panel on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s unique funding mechanism—which was concocted by congressional Democrats a decade ago to circumvent the traditional appropriations process—violates the Constitution. “Congress’s decision to abdicate its appropriations power under the Constitution, i.e., to cede its power of the purse to the Bureau, violates the Constitution’s structural separation of powers,” the panel held. It’s unclear whether the CFPB plans to appeal the ruling.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously Thursday to recommend adding COVID-19 shots to the 2023 child and adult vaccination schedule. The panel can’t enforce its decision, but states and local jurisdictions often require its recommended shots for students entering daycare and school.
  • The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported Thursday that U.S. college enrollment dropped for the third straight year in 2022—down 1.1 percent from 2021—but at a slower pace, approaching pre-pandemic rates of decline. Highly selective schools saw a 5.6 percent decrease in freshman enrollment year-over-year, while community colleges, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and primarily online institutions saw enrollment increases.
  • Ethiopia’s army has stepped up an offensive against rebel Tigrayan fighters, with thousands of soldiers gathering around the northern city of Axum after capturing three nearby towns. Diplomats have been negotiating the terms of peace talks—scheduled to begin in South Africa October 24—to stop the conflict, which re-escalated after a five-month humanitarian cease-fire ended in August. The fighting has killed more than 50,000 people, and famine and disease exacerbated by the war have killed hundreds of thousands more.
  • The average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States declined about 17 percent over the past two weeks according to CDC data, while the average number of daily deaths attributed to the virus—a lagging indicator—fell 7.5 percent. About 20,700 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, down from approximately 22,200 two weeks ago.
  • The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 12,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 214,000 last week. The measure is up from earlier this year, but it remains near historic lows, signaling the labor market—though cooling—continues to be tight.

The West Doesn’t Want to Whiff on Iran

Protesters hold placards and chant slogans outside the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul during a protest over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini. (Getty Images)

As the Green Movement protests swept through Iran in 2009, the fledgling Obama administration at first kept mum, purportedly for fear of giving the regime an excuse for a brutal crackdown. Then-President Barack Obama had also begun an exchange of letters with Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, that would eventually lead to negotiations for the 2015 nuclear deal.

Obama revisited that decision on an episode of “Pod Save America” last week. “There was some thought that we were somehow going to be undermining [protesters’] street cred in Iran if I supported what they were doing,” he said. “In retrospect, I think that was a mistake.”

Iran is once again rocked by protests—this time over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman detained for violating the state-required dress code—and Biden administration officials (many of whom served in the Obama administration) say they’ve learned from 2009’s mistakes.

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