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The Morning Dispatch: Tensions Flare in the Taiwan Strait
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The Morning Dispatch: Tensions Flare in the Taiwan Strait

Plus: A look at states’ exceptions to abortion restrictions.

Happy Thursday! It’s not just you—the Earth has been spinning faster lately. June 29 was the shortest day on record at a full 1.59 millisecond less than the average day. We knew something felt off.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Senate voted 95 to 1 Wednesday to ratify the NATO alliance applications of Finland and Sweden. Only Republican Sen. Josh Hawley opposed the move. All 30 NATO members must approve the applications of the two states, which decided to seek membership after Russia invaded Ukraine.

  • Indiana Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski, 58, died in a car crash Wednesday afternoon along with staff members Zach Potts and Emma Thomson. “She has returned home to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” her office said in a statement. “Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.”

  • Negotiations on an Iran nuclear deal resume today in Vienna after stalling in June. The 2015 nuclear deal—which limited Iranian nuclear development in exchange for lifting some Western sanctions—fell apart after the Trump administration withdrew from it in 2018 in hopes of a better deal. European Union officials mediating negotiations have circulated a draft agreement to bring the parties back to the table, but U.S. officials don’t expect much progress.

  • An investigation released Wednesday shows that Joseph Cuffari—the Homeland Security inspector general overseeing the investigation into the loss of Jan. 6 Secret Service texts—was accused in 2012 of misleading investigators while overseeing a Department of Justice inspector general field office in Arizona. House Oversight chair Carolyn Maloney and Jan. 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson reiterated their calls for Cuffari to resign, accusing him of deliberately delaying the Jan. 6 investigation.

  • Mark Bankston—the lawyer representing Sandy Hook parents suing InfoWars’ Alex Jones for defamation in his claims the shooting was a hoax—accused Jones of perjury Wednesday during cross-examination. Bankston claimed Jones’ lawyers accidentally sent him the contents of Jones’ phone, which contradicted Jones’ claims about his role in pushing Sandy Hook conspiracy theories and that InfoWars is suffering financially. The Jan. 6 committee plans to subpoena the phone contents.

  • As Europe races to reduce its dependence on Russian fuel, Spain has announced new energy use restrictions for public and commercial buildings including a ban on air conditioning set below about 80°F. The restrictions will take effect next week and are scheduled to last through November 2023. Greece and Italy announced similar measures last month.

Tensions Flare in the Taiwan Strait

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s house of parliament, yesterday. (Photo by Annabelle Chih/Getty Images.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week certainly made a splash. As her plane approached late Tuesday, crowds cheered and the island’s tallest building lit up with a welcome message. Some on the island protested, holding signs disparaging Pelosi and the U.S. Several million viewers live-streamed her plane’s landing on Chinese social media app Weibo, briefly crashing the app.

And before, during, and after her trip, China rolled out retaliatory measures against Taiwan—including military exercises starting today. 

China’s negative reaction surprised no one—the country’s leaders resent anything that hints at official relations between the U.S. and Taiwan, since China considers the self-ruling island a province it seeks to reunite with the mainland. China’s threats of escalatory responses prompted President Joe Biden to warn before Pelosi’s visit that “the military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.” A longtime China hawk, Pelosi didn’t back down.

“It was a bit of a rare semi-public spat between the Democratic sitting speaker and the White House,” Matt Abbott—a director at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs who has traveled with lawmakers to Taiwan—told The Dispatch. But the White House eventually pivoted to emphasizing that Pelosi’s visit doesn’t change U.S. policy, and that she’s hardly the first lawmaker to visit. “Newt Gingrich was the last sitting speaker to visit, 25 years ago,” Abbott said. “But over the past decades, there have been dozens of these congressional member and staff delegations to visit Taiwan. This year alone, at least seven sitting U.S. senators have visited Taiwan.”

But China’s power has grown since the Gingrich visit—and its relationship with the U.S. has deteriorated. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Pelosi’s visit “gravely undermines the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and called on the U.S. to “stop meddling on Taiwan and interfering in China’s internal affairs.” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng summoned U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Nicholas Burns to rebuke him for the visit.

U.S. allies have criticized China’s reaction to the trip. “There is no justification to use a visit as pretext for aggressive military activity in the Taiwan Strait,” the Group of 7 foreign ministers wrote in a statement released Wednesday. “It is normal and routine for legislators from our countries to travel internationally.”

Undeterred, China has followed its harsh words with actions. Taiwan’s defense ministry said it scrambled fighter jets Wednesday in response to 27 Chinese military aircraft flying through its air defense zone, following a similar episode Tuesday. Today, Beijing began live-fire military drills that will last through Sunday in six areas encircling Taiwan. China’s military has warned ships and airplanes to stay out of the planned exercise zones, which encroach on Taiwan’s territorial waters and are closer to the island than similar drills run in the past. 

“This is essentially trying to signal to Taiwan: We can blockade you, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it,” David Sacks—a Council on Foreign Relations research fellow focused on China and Taiwan—told The Dispatch. The exercises are likely to disrupt commercial flights, shipping, and fishing, and U.S. officials worry that—intentionally or not—maneuvers close to Taiwan could spark confrontations.

China also added to its trade restrictions against Taiwan this week, suspending exports to Taiwan of natural sand used in construction and halting imports of some Taiwanese fruit and fish products. Those measures didn’t touch Taiwan’s critical exports of integrated circuits and electronics, but China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, making economic coercion a potentially potent tool. 

The U.S. has several options for relieving China’s pressure on Taiwan, such as stepping up trade with the island to make up the loss from Chinese bans, expediting arms deliveries to Taiwan, and increasing the training it provides Taiwan’s military. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act already requires the U.S. to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, including from a Chinese invasion, but Congress could pass the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022—introduced by Sens. Bob Menendez, a Democrat,  and Lindsey Graham, a Republican—which would boost the amount and types of weapons systems the U.S. sends the island, among other supportive measures.

However the U.S. responds, China will likely continue pressuring Taiwan in the coming weeks. “That’s going to happen regardless of whether the speaker made this trip to Taiwan or not,” Abbott said. “The Chinese may frame [the visit] as a catalyst, but ultimately I expect any decisions that they’re making, they’re going to be made in the context of a broader strategy.” Chinese President Xi Jinping is laying the groundwork to seek an unprecedented third term this fall, a politically vulnerable period that could motivate him to look strong on Taiwan—and use it as a distraction from economic and COVID-19 woes at home.

“China has positioned itself to take further steps, and we expect that they will continue to react over a longer-term horizon,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday, predicting more military and economic steps. The U.S. has ships in the region but has opted not to move them closer to China’s military exercises. “The United States will not and does not—will not seek and does not want a crisis. We are prepared to manage what Beijing chooses to do.” 

What Are States Doing about Abortion Exceptions?

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it kicked off a flurry of state abortion legislation. A key bone of contention: whether and how to include exceptions—such as for rape, incest, and life-threatening conditions—in abortion bans. Ben Woodard waded through states’ abortion laws and has a report up on the chaotic landscape he found. 

The new crop of abortion restrictions is increasingly unlikely to include rape and incest exemptions despite pro-lifers’ mixed feelings. Louisiana passed an abortion restriction law in June that didn’t include rape or incest exceptions. Pro-life Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed disappointment that there were no exceptions—but signed the bill anyway. Arkansas’ Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson shared similar sentiments about a law he signed three years ago that took effect after the Court overturned Roe. Other officials say the lack of exemptions is a good thing—Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin has called for the elimination of situational exceptions, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem defended her state’s lack of such exceptions. 

Soon, only seven states will have laws that restrict abortions while including an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape: Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming. If Iowa’s state courts allow its six-week abortion ban to take effect, it will join this group. All but one of these—Mississippi—also have an exception for pregnancies resulting from incest. One of Oklahoma’s five contradictory abortion restrictions includes rape and incest exceptions, but none of the others do; even the attorney general’s office was unclear which would take precedence.

It can be hard to take advantage of exceptions that do exist. In states with a gestational age cap on such abortions, delays can keep a woman from an abortion. Parental consent requirements for minors seeking abortions are not always waived in cases of incest and abuse, so a victim of incest could be forced to acquire the consent of her abuser—or get a judicial bypass from a court—to receive an abortion. Minors who report sexual assault could be taken from their families and placed into the custody of the state, Michele Bratcher Goodwin, law professor at UC-Irvine, told The Dispatch. She added that their situation could be made even more complex if they are placed with a pro-life foster family or through a religious foster agency.

Several states have statutes that do not clearly define the process for verifying rape or incest before performing an abortion, leading abortion providers to hesitate for fear of prosecution. “It is possible to sue because a law is vague or it is overly broad,” Goodwin said, predicting that pro-abortion access groups could try the tactic in coming court battles against these laws. Courts ruling against the statutes would force legislatures to rewrite them with clarified exceptions—or, depending on the political environment, with none at all.

Plus … Kansans vote for abortion access. While state legislatures are busy writing up new abortion laws, Kansas was the first state to put the question directly to voters. Tuesday, Kansans soundly defeated a pro-life ballot measure that would have made room for lawmakers to impose more restrictions on abortion in the state. 

Sarah and Ben broke it down in Wednesday’s Sweep: In February 2021, the state legislature voted to put an amendment on the ballot stating that the Kansas constitution “does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.” It would not have immediately affected the legality of abortion but would have allowed the Republican-supermajority legislature to pass restrictions which Kansas Supreme Court precedent currently prevents.

Abortion access activists decried the amendment’s confusing language (a ‘yes’ vote removed abortion access protections, while a ‘no’ vote maintained the status quo). Despite that, and polling showing a closely divided electorate that slightly favored the amendment, it not only failed but did so by a wide margin—59 percent to 41 percent. Both sides spent nearly $13 million on television ads alone in the campaign. Kansas law will continue to allow elective abortion until 22 weeks—and afterward in the case of risk to the mother’s life or physical health.

Worth Your Time

  • The voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, passed away Tuesday at the age of 94. “He made baseball broadcasting sound like literature,” National Review’s Dan McLaughlin writes in a moving eulogy for his uncle, a broadcasting legend who called 67 seasons of Dodgers baseball in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. “I do not give too much away, and likely will not surprise anyone, in saying that the private Vin was exactly the same as the public Vin,” McLaughlin remembers. “He was generous and even-tempered and in every sense a gentleman. When he called the house, he broadcasted: you could hear his voice coming out of the phone halfway across the room. In later years, a voicemail from Vin was a small treasure in itself, with a beginning, an anecdote, and a conclusion… He was my hero because of who he was and how he lived his life in public and in private, but also because he represented all the American possibilities—and that you could do great things and still be good.”

  • In the Washington Post, David Byler crunches some numbers on Trump’s popularity and policies. “Donald Trump leads in primary polls and is well-liked by his party—but his position is worse than it was a year ago,” Byler writes. “Why has Trump’s position deteriorated? One reason: Trump used to take positions that helped him stand out from other leading Republicans. But he hasn’t done that in 2024. He is focused on the ‘big lie’—an issue that’s less potent than it appears—and allowed Trumpian alternatives such as [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis to gain ground… Trump once had an exclusive claim on key issues. Now, he doesn’t. When Trump first ran for president in 2016, he took an unusual, three-pronged approach: He zoomed to the right on immigration, tacked toward the center on economics and attacked the GOP establishment at every opportunity. He distinguished himself from a field crowded with traditionally conservative career politicians—and he won the nomination. But since then, Trump has lost his unique claim on each part of this approach.”

Presented Without Comment

 Toeing the Company Line

  • What do Tuesday’s primaries mean for the midterms? Sarah has some ideas in this week’s Sweep (🔒). For one, “The ballot measure in Kansas didn’t tell me much about how a generic pro-life Republican candidate will do against a generic pro-choice Democratic candidate in the fall,” she writes. “But I’m more open to the idea that it could have a real effect than I was a month ago.” Plus: Trump’s night in Arizona, the fates of three pro-impeachment House Republicans, and GOP odds to take the Senate. 

  • In this week’s Capitolism (🔒), Scott wades into the debate over whether or not we’re technically in a recession—and the debate over whether or not that first debate is even useful. In short: It’s complicated, and definitely not.

  • Want a third political party? Don’t we all, Jonah writes in Wednesday’s G-File (🔒). But a viable third party needs an issue to champion, not just the empty idea of an alternative—which is something Andrew Yang’s effort so far doesn’t have. “A party that depends on rallying a reserve army of raging moderate voters eager to give voice to their willingness to compromise with the people they disagree with most is an interesting idea,” Jonah writes. “But it’s also a new idea, and most new ideas don’t work.”

Let Us Know

How would you like the U.S. to respond to China’s pressure on Taiwan?

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.