Today's D Brief: Debt crisis, averted; Russia’s natural-gas militia; DOD’s Starlink deal; Killer-AI kerfuffle; And a bit more.
Financial crisis averted: Late Thursday evening, senators voted 63-36 to pass the two-year debt ceiling extension negotiated last week by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The bill passed the House on Wednesday, 314-117, then the Senate on Thursday, and it’s now headed to the White House for the president’s signature. If no deal had been reached, House Republicans would have forced the U.S. to default on its $31.4 trillion in debt as early as Monday, almost certainly triggering chaos across the world’s financial markets and undermining U.S. national security.
What it means: Debt-ceiling drama gets put on hold for about two years, essentially kicking that can down the road until January 2025, which is right after the next presidential election. Meanwhile, the country’s next defense budget could be as high as $886 billion, which is about a 3% increase over the current fiscal year—though not what many Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, e.g., want to keep pace with inflation. There’s also a 1% boost written into the compromise bill for the following year, which could bring defense spending as high as $895 billion in 2025.
Some Republicans worried the new deal would somehow underfund the military, prompting a joint statement from Senate leader Chuck Schumer and ranking Republican Mitch McConnell that there is still room for “emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities,” should those be required before Jan. 2025.
“No one gets everything they want in a negotiation,” said Biden in a tweet about an hour before midnight. “But make no mistake,” he continued, “this bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people."
Stay tuned: Biden is expected to address the nation briefly this evening at 7 p.m. ET.
And later this month on Capitol Hill, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi may fly into Washington to address a joint session of Congress after the top four lawmakers sent a formal invitation (PDF) to New Delhi on Thursday. If accepted, it would be Modi’s second time speaking to lawmakers in Washington, which he did for the first time in 2016.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1990, more than 60 tornadoes formed and ripped across portions of Illinois, Indiana (which alone saw 37), Ohio, and Kentucky.
Russia attacked Ukraine with 15 cruise missiles and 21 drones overnight, according to Ukraine’s Air Force, which claims it shot down all 36 of those objects.
New: Moscow’s state-owned Gazprom natural gas company has its own militias fighting in Ukraine, the Financial Times reported Friday. Through documents and interviews, a trio of FT reporters discovered the energy firm has for the last several months “recruited, equipped and paid employees to join the invasion.”
Developing: China’s Russian invasion envoy said Friday that he insists nations around the world “stop sending weapons to the battlefield” in Ukraine. “China believes that if we really want to put an end to war, to save lives and realize peace, it is important for us to stop sending weapons to the battlefield, or else the tensions will only spiral up,” Li Hui told reporters Friday in Beijing.
Worth noting: Li does not appear to have mentioned any of the Chinese firms that have been selling drone parts to Russia over the course of the invasion. “China’s goal is promoting peace talks and a cessation of hostilities,” Li said Friday. The Associated Press has more.
Another thing: CIA Director William Burns traveled to China on a secret trip just last month where he stressed “the importance of maintaining open lines of communications in intelligence channels,” a U.S. official told the Financial Times, reporting Friday from Singapore.
New: Pentagon buys more Starlink terminals, services for Ukraine. Little is known about the new deal, which was first reported by Bloomberg. But the satellite-based internet service remains vital to Ukrainian forces, even if:
- Russian targeting has made the ground terminals something of a double-edged sword, as Defense One’s Sam Skove has reported.
- Starlink owner Elon Musk has proven more mercurial than is typically desired of a key supplier, donating thousands of terminals to Ukraine, then threatening to cut off service and claiming that the gear was “never meant to be weaponized” despite Pentagon contracts for precisely that purpose. Defense One’s Audrey Decker has a quick timeline, here.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is visiting Türkiye on Saturday and Sunday to congratulate President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan on his re-election following the run-off that concluded this past weekend.
What’s next for Erdogan? The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace predicts three things: “First, he will seek additional funds from his reliable partners, such as Russia, Qatar, and the Gulf states. Second, he will refrain from deliberately confronting the West or acting like a disruptive power in the hopes of luring overseas investment and new lines of credit. Finally, he will concurrently introduce some semblance of normalcy to his economic management, which has failed to address inflation while increasing the country’s risk premiums and scaring away foreign capital.” Read on, here.
The U.S. continues to scour the globe for artillery shells that it can send to chronically limited Ukrainian batteries. Officials are reportedly in talks with Japanese companies to supply explosives, which “would test [Japan’s] willingness to court controversy to help Kyiv because export rules ban Japanese companies from selling lethal items overseas,” Reuters reports, citing two unnamed sources.
The U.S. and Taiwan formally inked a trade deal, irking China, AP reports. The deal will “cut red tape at customs and reduce waiting times for U.S. businesses bringing products to Taiwan. It also commits the U.S. and Taiwan to adopting measures to combat bribery and other forms of corruption and to encouraging more trade involving small- and medium-sized businesses,” an earlier AP report said.
Lastly today: Simulated drone kills its operator!!—wait, never mind. After the U.S. Air Force’s chief of AI test and operations described a simulation in which an AI-infused drone “killed” its operator for disallowing certain targets, the Royal Aeronautical Society wrote up his remarks in a blog post that went viral on Thursday. But now, the story has been walked back by a service spokesman (remarks were “taken out of context and were meant to be anecdotal”) and by AI chief Col. Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton himself (who said he “misspoke" about a hypothetical "thought experiment").
"We've never run that experiment, nor would we need to in order to realize that this is a plausible outcome," Hamilton told the Society. Have a safe weekend!
Have a safe weekend, everyone! And we’ll be back again on Monday.
NEXT STORY: USAF Calls Killer-AI Report ‘Anecdotal’