Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The Department of Justice sued Texas Monday after Gov. Greg Abbott refused to remove floating barriers installed in the Rio Grande to deter migrant crossers. The DOJ argues Abbott failed to obtain necessary federal permission for the barriers, which pose “threats to navigation and public safety” and have prompted diplomatic protest from Mexico, which says the barriers may violate two treaties. Abbott has claimed the barriers—and Texas’ other “Operation Lone Star” efforts to prevent illegal border crossings—are a necessary response to lax federal border enforcement.
- The IRS announced Monday that it would stop making most unannounced, in-person visits to taxpayers—a practice that has long been one of the agency’s key tools to collect unpaid taxes—citing security concerns and taxpayer confusion as scam artists imitated the tactic. The change is part of a 10-year modernization plan focused on cracking down on tax evasion and improving customer service.
- U.S. Judge Rudolph Contreras on Monday sentenced truck driver Peter Stager to 52 months in federal prison for beating police officer Blake Miller with a flagpole during the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Stager pleaded guilty in February to a felony for assaulting police with a dangerous weapon and apologized to Miller in a letter, writing he didn’t “have hatred toward law enforcement, let alone for anyone.”
- Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has reportedly asked U.S. officials about a February 2020 Oval Office meeting during which then-President Donald Trump praised improved election security measures—possibly looking for evidence suggesting Trump knew later claims about voter fraud were untrue. Smith is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election along with the former president’s mishandling of classified documents. Trump said last week he had received a letter suggesting he may be indicted soon in the January 6 case.
- Israel’s parliament approved a controversial judicial overhaul Monday morning despite widespread protests and threats by military reservists, union leaders, and doctors to stop working in response to the policy. The changes—which curb the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government actions—sparked mass protests across Israel, with police preventing demonstrators from storming the country’s legislature and at times using water cannons to disperse crowds. The White House—which had pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to slow the changes—called the bill’s narrow passage “unfortunate.”
- Russian officials said Ukrainian drones crashed into buildings in Moscow Monday and hit an arms depot in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Russia has occupied since 2014. Over the weekend, Russian missiles damaged infrastructure and a historic cathedral in Odesa, Ukraine. On Monday, Russia struck a grain terminal in the Ukrainian port of Remi, part of a larger effort by Moscow to curb Ukraine’s grain exports after Russia left a key grain deal a week ago.
‘Come Fly With Me’… in Four to Six Months
An average congressional office gets a lot of constituent calls—some callers look to raise awareness on issues, and others look to complain about a vote they disagreed with. But for many offices, 2023 has become the year of the panic passport call: Thousands of constituents have been phoning and emailing senators and representatives desperate to renew their passports as the State Department struggles to process a record number of the little blue books. Now, in the heat of the summer travel season and with months-long wait times, passport processing is in crisis with no clear end in sight.
“The demand for passports is greater than it’s ever been,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this month. The United States is on track to reach an all-time annual high of 25 million new and renewed passports issued—breaking the previous record of 22 million set last year. Between January and May, the State Department received more than 500,000 applications a week. “During some weeks we are seeing twice as many applications pending compared to the same point in Fiscal Year 2022,” the agency said.
Under normal conditions, wait times are six to eight weeks for routine applications and two to three for expedited applications. These days, according to the State Department, the waits are 10 to 13 weeks for routine and seven to nine weeks for expedited applications. And that’s not counting the time it takes to mail an application or receive your passport back in the mail, which can add another month of wait time. Frustrated would-be travelers have reported canceling travel plans—in some cases forfeiting thousands of dollars of travel costs—after passport applications begun months ahead didn’t come through in time. Some have resorted to flying across the country to states with less demand on their passport offices. The State Department has reportedly resorted to triaging applicants to prioritize those whose need to travel is “life or death”—the agency allows emergency passport approvals for people needing to see immediate family members who are sick or dying.