Lawmakers Seek to Upgrade Federal Aviation Administration 

Happy Tuesday! North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said yesterday he would not be interested in serving as Donald Trump’s vice president, just in case you were wondering.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Ukrainian officials said on Monday the country’s forces have retaken Robotyne—a village in the southeastern Zaporizhzhya region of the country—and are making progress on Kyiv’s plan to reach the Sea of Azov and split Russian forces in the south. Ukraine hopes the slow progress of the counteroffensive will begin to pick up speed as troops puncture the most well-entrenched Russian positions. 
  • Meanwhile, as Ukraine angles for additional aid from the U.S. and Europe, President Volodymyr Zelensky is proposing a plan to treat graft and corruption as high treason during wartime. The plan is partly a response to two senior ministers being named as suspects in an aid procurement embezzlement scheme last week. But some Ukrainian officials fear the proposal will shift oversight from anti-corruption agencies to security services under Zelensky’s control, potentially compromising the independence of investigations of high-ranking officials. “I don’t know whether Ukrainian MPs will support my idea, but I will definitely propose it,” Zelensky said Sunday evening. “I understand that such a weapon cannot operate constantly in society, but during wartime, I think it will help.” 
  • An estimated 1.87 million excess deaths were recorded in China during the two months after the country lifted its “zero-COVID” policies, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week. China experienced a huge COVID surge in January and February, but the Chinese government has not released numbers on the death toll—though cremations, in one province, rose more than 70 percent during the first quarter of the year.
  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, yesterday during the first meeting of her trip to Beijing. The four-hour meeting produced agreements to establish new lines of dialogue on commercial and trade issues—particularly U.S. rules on exports of advanced technology like semiconductors to China—including a working group involving U.S. and Chinese officials. Raimondo’s visit follows visits by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to recall France’s ambassador to Niger, in defiance of a 48-hour deadline levied by Nigerien coup leaders Friday after the ambassador refused to meet with them. France has condemned the coup and continues to back the country’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum. “I think our policy is the right one. It’s based on the courage of President Bazoum, and on the commitments of our ambassador on the ground who is remaining despite all the pressure, despite all the declarations made by the illegitimate authorities,” Macron said in an annual speech to French diplomats yesterday. Macron did not comment on the September 3 deadline that the putschists made for the 1,500 French troops in Niger to leave.
  • The judge overseeing special counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Trump over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election set a trial date for March 4, 2024. Judge Tanya Chutkan rejected the push by Trump’s legal team for an April 2026 trial date, setting the date only two months later than what Smith had requested. “The public has a right to a prompt and efficient resolution of this matter,” she said. Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, took the stand yesterday in a hearing over moving his case in the Georgia indictment to federal court. The judge deciding on the request said he would make a ruling by September 6, the same date all 19 defendants in the case including Trump will be arraigned.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Calabretta granted Google’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee (RNC) claiming the company’s Gmail spam filter unfairly suppressed RNC messages. “While it is a close case,” the judge wrote, “the court concludes that … the RNC has not sufficiently pled that Google acted in bad faith in filtering the RNC’s messages into Gmail users’ spam folders, and that doing so was protected by section 230.” As Sarah wrote last year, Republican fundraising appeals are likely flagged by spam filters at higher rates due to abuse of email lists.

A Summer of Close Calls

An American Airlines Airbus A319 airplane takes off past the air traffic control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, January 11, 2023. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/ Getty Images)
An American Airlines Airbus A319 airplane takes off past the air traffic control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, January 11, 2023. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/ Getty Images)

There are lots of reasons why we don’t ever want to hear the phrase “skin to skin” in the context of an airplane. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced a less obvious—but no less unpleasant—image when it suggested that was an accurate description of the distance between two planes during a “near miss” encounter on a San Francisco runway last month.  

After several years of wonky pandemic travel, the airline industry is on a rocky footing, still suffering from serious shortages of pilots, air traffic controllers, and other staff. In the wake of a sobering New York Times investigation revealing the incredible frequency in recent months of close encounters between commercial airplanes on runways across the country, the Senate will pick up its version of a bill to reauthorize funding to the FAA when it reconvenes in mid-September. The Senate and House will then have to iron out the differences in their respective versions, something one Republican congressional aide—who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the process—tells TMD will almost certainly require more time than the looming September 30 deadline allows.

The San Francisco “skin to skin” incident was by no means the only close call in the last month, a frightening development during an era when so-called “swiss cheese” safety measures—intentional redundancies meant to catch human error and system failures—have basically eliminated deadly commercial plane crashes in the U.S. The last fatal commercial crash in the U.S. came in 2009, when an aircraft from the now-defunct Colgan Air crashed into a house in Buffalo, New York, killing 49 people on the plane and one on the ground. In response, Congress increased the number of flight hours required to qualify as a commercial captain from 250 to 1,500 and boosted pilot rest requirements.

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