10 things you need to know today: August 15, 2020

1.

The United States Postal Service is warning that delays could prevent voters’ mail-in ballots from being counted this November in almost every state. The USPS reportedly “sent detailed letters to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted.” Initial reports found the warning had affected Pennsylvania voters, but the issues with mail processing capacities are apparently widespread. Michigan and Florida, two other crucial swing states, also received the warning their deadlines are “incongruous” with how quickly USPS can deliver ballots to election officials. Officials in Pennsylvania are trying to move the deadline for counting mail-in votes, but in many other states, deadlines cannot be adjusted. [The Washington Post]

2.

Former President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to fight against what he called President Trump’s attempt to “actively kneecap the Postal Service.” Trump has said he doesn’t want more funding for the USPS so that universal mail-in voting can’t be set up before November’s election. The USPS is now warning ballots in 46 states may not be delivered in time to be counted. Obama said action was necessary, both by members of Congress and citizens, to “protect the integrity” of the presidential election, and called Trump’s attacks on the USPS “unique to modern history.” He also accused Republicans of trying “to discourage people’s votes from counting” with other measures like gerrymandering and voter identification restrictions. The Trump campaign has launched several lawsuits against efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic. [NBC News]

3.

The United Nations Security Council on Friday voted to reject the United States’ effort to extend a global arms embargo on Iran. Washington was backed by the Dominican Republic, but China and Russia opposed the measure, and the 11 other members of the council, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, abstained. The ban is set to expire in October as a result of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the vote was “inexcusable” and accused the council of paving “the way for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell conventional weapons without specific U.N. restrictions” and ignoring Israel and six Arab Gulf nations who supported the extension. [Al Jazeera, Politico]

4.

In updated coronavirus guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have recovered from COVID-19 do not need to quarantine or get tested (as long as they don’t develop symptoms) for three months after recuperating, suggesting immunity may last that long. Recovered patients should still socially distance and wear masks, the agency says. The guidance is reportedly based on studies that have found no evidence of people getting re-infected in that span after recovering. Longer term studies will be needed to determine how long protection could really last, however. In related news, the Food and Drug Administration is recommending that people who have been exposed to the virus, but lack symptoms, should avoid getting rapid COVID-19 tests, and instead should receive more sensitive PCR tests, which take longer but are considered more accurate. [The Washington Post, NBC News]

5.

Belarus’ embattled President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday appealed to his long-time ally Russian President Vladimir Putin as protesters continue to call for his resignation following his recent disputed election victory. Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years, but the so-called “last dictator in Europe” is facing one of his strongest challenges yet, as tens of thousands of people remain in the streets. He said it is necessary to contact Putin because the protests are “not a threat to just Belarus anymore.” Meanwhile, the opposition is re-emerging after Lukashenko cracked down on potential challengers, including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran against him in last week’s election. Tikhanovskaya left the country for Lithuania this week for safety reasons, but resurfaced on social media Friday and said she is ready to enter talks with Lukashenko, mediated by international partners. [Reuters, NPR]

6.

President Trump, via executive order, officially called on Chinese company ByteDance to divest itself of the U.S. operations of the popular video-sharing app, TikTok. The president’s order allows 90 days for the transaction to be completed. Trump said “there is credible evidence” leading him to believe ByteDance “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States,” echoing concerns that the company would share American users’ data with the Chinese government, a claim ByteDance denies. Previously, Trump had demanded ByteDance find a deal within 45 days, otherwise U.S.-based app stores would be required to stop distributing TikTok, but the new order gives the company more time. Microsoft is considered the leading bidder for the app. [The Wall Street Journal, CNBC]

7.

As a part of a probe launched by Attorney General William Barr on the origins of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian election interference, a former FBI lawyer will plead guilty to falsifying an email that justified the surveillance of a Trump campaign staffer. The former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, will reportedly admit he doctored a document that helped the FBI acquire a warrant to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The probe of the probe, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, led to charges that Clinesmith falsely said Page was not a source for the CIA, allowing him to be monitored as a possible agent of a foreign power. Clinesmith’s attorney says he “deeply regrets having altered the email.” [CBS News]

8.

The independent Government Accountability Office on Friday said two top Department of Homeland Security officials are not eligible for their jobs. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Kenneth Cuccinelli, his deputy, were appointed to their positions in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act, and the two top officials are “serving under an invalid order of succession,” the watchdog said. When former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in 2019, the official who became acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, “had not been designated in the order of succession to serve,” making “subsequent amendments to the order of succession … invalid.” Several Democrats called for the officials to resign or be removed from office. A DHS spokesperson said “we wholeheartedly disagree with the GAO’s baseless report.” [The Washington Post, CNN]

9.

California electrical providers instituted rolling blackouts Friday night for the first time since 2001 amid a potentially record-breaking heat wave that is expected to affect many states in the West through next Thursday. The outages are over now, but affected about 220,000 customers throughout the evening after the state body that manages California’s utilities declared an emergency to help reduce stress on the larger grid. At the same time, wildfires continue to rage in Southern California and Arizona, and fire warnings were in place Saturday morning from Northern California to Washington state. The excessive heat will likely provide an extra challenge for firefighters. [ABC News, NPR]

10.

Organizers of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Friday announced that the event scheduled for next week will feature performances from Leon Bridges, The Chicks, Common, Billie Eilish, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Billy Porter, Maggie Rogers, Prince Royce, and Stephen Stills. While the Democratic convention was originally set to take place entirely in Wisconsin, it has since been revamped into a primarily virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic. The scheduled artists are expected to deliver their performances remotely. The convention is set to begin on Aug. 17. [USA Today, People]

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