This week we'll be covering the "hoax" coronavirus and Mike Pence, the Taliban, the intelligence community, and dangerous immigration policies now put on hold.
"Remain in Mexico" blocked
U.S. President Donald Trump's "Remain in Mexico" program was blocked by a federal appeals court in California last week after the court found that Homeland Security isn't allowed to return protection seekers and the government can't send people into countries where they are at risk of harm or death. The program was created to stop asylum seekers from skipping out on their court dates, but it has instead put tens of thousands of migrants in danger "as bad as the murderous places they fled".
The administration is expected to appeal the decision, potentially by putting the case in front of the Supreme Court which is generally pro-Trump when it comes to issues of immigration.
Director of National Intelligence
President Trump has announced that he will be nominating Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe for the position of Director of National Intelligence. Trump first nominated Ratcliffe for the job last July, but Ratcliffe withdrew before his nomination had even been officially submitted due to the controversy surrounding his lack of qualifications.
The Director of National Intelligence is an incredibly important official in the intelligence community; they oversee the 17 different intelligence agencies. This requires extensive intelligence experience, and Ratcliffe has none. He was the mayor of a small Texas town, a prosecutor, and a three-term Congressman. He has also been accused of exaggerating his own record by claiming he's prosecuted terrorists - which he hasn't.
During the Trump presidency, the DNI and the Administration have often been at odds. Ratcliffe's two predecessors, if he is hired, were either fired or left because of disagreements with the President. This makes Trump's decision to hire someone he knows is a loyalist even more understandable. This position also oversees some parts of election security, making this swap particularly timely for the Trump campaign.
In the past, Ratcliffe has stridently opposed the Russia investigation and said that "crimes were committed" during the Obama administration's investigation of election interference.
Historic US Taliban Agreement
The U.S. and Taliban have signed a historic agreement establishing the withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan within 14 months.
The deal maintains the basic demand the U.S. has been making since soon after 9-11: to hand over all al-Qaida members they are harboring. The modern iteration stipulates that the Taliban must not harbor militants or militant groups that seek to harm the U.S. and its allies.
The U.S., on the other hand, has agreed to withdraw roughly 4,000 troops in the next 135 days. They will also work on lifting sanctions on Taliban leaders and will negotiate a prisoner swap between the insurgents and the Afghan government.
"We are seizing the best opportunity for peace in a generation," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said of the deal. "If the Taliban do not uphold their commitments, President Trump and his team would not hesitate to do what we must do to protect American lives. If, on the other hand, the Taliban abide by their promises, the United States will undertake a responsible conditions-based troop withdrawal."
Negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government to cement a cease-fire are also required by the deal, but it won't be an easy process. Taliban leaders are calling on Afghan leaders to join with them in building an Islamic system, something which could mean a significant roll-back of rights for women. Afghan officials say that they won't accept such an arrangement.
There have been other signs that the negotiating is far from over: the Afghan government has rejected the current plan for a prisoner swap with the Taliban. "The request has been made by the United States for the release of prisoners and it can be part of the negotiations but it cannot be a precondition," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said at a news conference Sunday.
The State Department has made it clear that the deal is "aspirational" and dependent upon the behavior of the Taliban.
"No one is under any false illusion that this won't be a difficult conversation," said Pompeo.
Trump and the Coronavirus
As the death toll of coronavirus rises around the globe, the President told supporters at a campaign rally in South Carolina that the virus is the Democrat's "new hoax" meant to weaken him.
"One of my people came up to me and said 'Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn't work out too well.' They couldn't do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation," Trump said.
Two Americans have now died from the virus, and several cases have effected people who haven't traveled anywhere with the virus or interacted with anyone else who was sick.
"We will do everything in our power to keep the infection and those carrying the infection from entering our country. We have no choice," Trump said. "Whether it's the virus we're talking about or many other public health threats, the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and wellbeing of all Americans."
In a press conference on Saturday, the President was asked for clarification on his "hoax" comments.
"The 'hoax' was used with respect to Democrats and what they were saying. It was a 'hoax,' what they were saying," Trump said.
Calling the virus a hoax wasn't the only Trump decision that has caused concern. In a move that has baffled some, Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to manage the U.S. coronavirus response. Trump claimed Pence has " a certain talent for this", a statement that has those familiar with the VP's past alarmed.
After pushing to defund and close the last HIV testing center in the county, Pence failed to stop an outbreak of HIV that exploded amongst intra-veinous drug users in Scott County, Indiana. At the peak of the spread, 20 new cases were being diagnosed per week.
Despite the fact that needle sharing was likely the cause of the outbreak, Pence refused to authorize a needle-exchange program that could slow the spread. After two months of pressure, Pence said he would pray on the issue. Two days later, he ordered syringes to be distributed in Scott County via executive order.
Even then, no new funding went to the program or to the effort to combat the outbreak.
"Overall, his governorship showed that he did not commit to an adequately funded public health infrastructure," Beth Meyerson, a research professor at the University of Arizona's Southwest Institute for Research on Women and co-director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at the Indiana University School of Public Health, told Vox.