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Media watch: Kamala-mania Seizes the Press

Vice President Kamala Harris will “be the deciding vote for major pieces of legislation,” but the “Kamala-mania” that has “swept the media” means she is treated with kid gloves, chides Kate Andrews at Spectator USA. With the intent of “landing blows on the opposition,” Harris told Axios that the Biden administration was “starting from scratch” on vaccine distribution.

Axios tweeted the comment with a fact-check quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that wasn’t true — and then deleted it. Even Fauci jumped to her defense, telling reporters to give her “a break.” Harris’ attempts “to play down the country’s vaccine success story” should “be met with intense scrutiny, not free passes, deleted tweets or ‘a break.’  ”

MD: We’ll Have Herd Immunity by April

In The Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins physician Marty Makary lays out the case for the nation reaching “herd immunity” — enough people highly resistant to COVID-19 that transmission is rare — far sooner than most expect. Cases are “plummeting much faster than experts predicted”: They are “down 77 percent over the past six weeks.” Why? Largely ­“because natural immunity from prior infection is far more common than can be measured by testing,” which misses at least 75 percent of cases. That suggests more than half of Americans have acquired immunity; add 150 million vaccinations by the end of March. “The consistent and rapid decline in daily cases since Jan. 8 can be explained only by natural immunity.” At this trajectory, “COVID will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.”

Conservative: A Looming Immigration Disaster

With illegal border crossings surging and President Biden restricting deportations, Democrats’ proposed “immigration bill that would grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants” seems “tailor-made to worsen the situation,” argues The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson. Democrats have adopted “an ideologically driven plan to open the borders, which is what . . . a mass amnesty without border security will do.” The message to would-be Mexican and Central-American migrants is that “if you can get into the United States, you can stay.” One Mexican migrant shelter, “the first one Central Americans reach after trekking through a stretch of Guatemalan jungle,” has hosted 1,500 migrants so far this year, compared with 3,000 for all of 2020.

From the right: Keep Election Day to a Day

The Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to hear a challenge to Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results is strong grounds to reform “our national law on Election Day,” contends Adele Malpass at The New York Sun. America needs “a single date” on which results can be announced after polls close. States managed to do that despite the 1918 pandemic and World Wars I and II, but in 2020, six failed to do so. “The longer the vote-counting,” the “less confidence voters have in the outcome.” In a “fiery dissent,” Justice Clarence Thomas stressed the importance of clear, firm rules and deadlines. “Let’s hope that by 2024,” states will enact them, making it “easy to vote” and “hard to cheat” — and giving us “results on Election Night.”

Foreign desk: Iran’s Irresponsibility on COVID

“To paraphrase Charles Dickens,” the pandemic has “been the worst of times for all of us,” but “Israel and Iran are truly a tale of two countries,” observe Victoria Coates and Len Khodorkovsky in The Jerusalem Post. The Jewish state has administered the most vaccine doses per capita worldwide, with a third of Israelis receiving two doses, while “only 10,000 Iranians have received the first dose — just .01 percent.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, barred US and UK vaccines, claiming they are “completely untrustworthy,” so he is unlikely to accept help from Israel, which is exploring donating “excess doses” to poorer nations. “Responsible governments have often found ways to put hostilities aside and cooperate in a mutual crisis,” however, and acceptance of a “humanitarian effort” should be a precondition for resuming “any diplomacy related to [Iran’s] nuclear program.”

— Compiled by The Post Editorial Board

Filed under Coronavirus ,  editorial ,  elections ,  fast takes ,  immigration ,  irankamala harris ,  2/23/21

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U.S. will defend troops and interests after rocket attack in Iraq, Defense Secretary says

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to Defense Department personnel during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, February 10, 2021.Carlos Barria | Reuters

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned those responsible for carrying out last week's rocket attack against an Iraqi base that hosts American troops will be held to account.

"The message to those that would carry out such an attack is that expect us to do what is necessary to defend ourselves," Austin said in an interview with ABC that aired on Sunday.

"We'll strike if that's what we think we need to do at a time and place of our own choosing. We demand the right to protect our troops," he said, adding that the U.S. is still assessing intelligence with its Iraqi partners.

Defense officials have previously said the attack had typical hallmarks of a strike by Iran-backed groups. Iran has denied involvement.

When asked if Iran would view a potential U.S. response as an escalation of tensions, the new Pentagon chief and retired Army four-star reiterated that Washington would do whatever is necessary to protect Americans and U.S. interests in the region.

"What they [Iranians] should draw from this, again, is that we're going to defend our troops and our response will be thoughtful. It will be appropriate," Austin said. "We would hope that they would choose to do the right things," he added.

On Sunday, the U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees the wars in the Middle East, flew its fourth bomber deployment to the region.

The show of force mission included two B-52H Stratofortress bombers alongside aircraft from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar at different points to "deter aggression and reassure partners and allies of the U.S. military's commitment to security in the region."

Last month, Iran rejected an invitation from global powers who signed the 2015 nuclear deal to discuss the regime's potential return to the negotiating table, a significant setback in the Biden administration's efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

The White House said that the Biden administration was disappointed with Iran's decision to skip the informal meeting but would "reengage in meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments."

President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani speaks during the National Combat Board Meeting with Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Tehran, Iran on Nov. 21, 2020.Iranian Presidency Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Biden administration has previously said that it wants to revive the nuclear deal but won't suspend sanctions until Tehran comes back into compliance. Tehran has refused to negotiate while U.S. sanctions remain in place.

The 2015 JCPOA, brokered by the Obama administration, lifted sanctions on Iran that had crippled its economy and cut its oil exports roughly in half. In exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief, Iran agreed to dismantle some of its nuclear program and open its facilities to more extensive international inspections.

The U.S. and its European allies believe Iran has ambitions to develop a nuclear bomb. Tehran has denied that allegation.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump kept a campaign promise and withdrew the United States from the JCPOA calling it the "worst deal ever." Following Washington's exit from the landmark nuclear deal, other signatories of the pact ⁠have tried to keep the agreement alive. 

Washington's tense relationship with Tehran took several turns for the worse under the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on Hurricane Michael in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, October 10, 2018. Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Last year, the U.S. carried out an airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, Iran's top military commander. Iran retaliated by launching at least a dozen missiles from its territory on Jan. 7 at two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops and coalition forces.

A day later from the White House, Trump said that Iran appeared "to be standing down" and warned Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

On the heels of the deadly U.S. strike, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the Trump administration had committed an "act of terror."

People gather to protest the US air strike in Iraq that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who headed Iran's Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force in Sanaa, Yemen on January 6, 2020.Mohammed Hamoud | Andalou Agency | Getty Images

Soleimani's death led the regime to further scale back compliance with the international nuclear pact. In January 2020, Iran said it would no longer limit its uranium enrichment capacity or nuclear research.

In October, the United States unilaterally re-imposed U.N. sanctions on Tehran through a snapback process, which other U.N. Security Council members have previously said Washington does not have the authority to execute because it withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

A month later, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated near Tehran, which led Iran's government to allege that Israel was behind the attack with U.S. backing.

A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020.WANA via Reuters

During the summer of 2019, a string of attacks in the Persian Gulf set the U.S. and Iran on a path toward greater confrontation.

In June 2019, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory. That strike came a week after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.

The U.S. that June slapped new sanctions on Iranian military leaders blamed for shooting down the drone. The measures also aimed to block financial resources for Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Tensions soared again in September of 2019 when the U.S. blamed Iran for strikes in Saudi Arabia on the world's largest crude processing plant and oil field. The strikes forced the kingdom to shut down half of its production operations.

The event triggered the largest spike in crude prices in decades and renewed concerns of a budding conflict in the Middle East.

The Pentagon described the strikes on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities as "sophisticated" and represented a "dramatic escalation" in tensions within the region.

All the while, Iran maintains that it was not behind the attacks.

VIDEO1:0201:02Satellite photos show the attack damage to Saudi Aramco oil facilitiesNews Videos

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