Your Friday Briefing: A Race to Avert a U.S. Default

U.S. Senators have to vote on approval of a bill to avert a potential default.Credit…Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

A final push to avert a U.S. default

Leaders of both parties in the U.S. Senate were racing to move toward a vote on a bill that would raise the debt limit before a potential default on Monday, when the Treasury Department has said the U.S. will run out of cash.

The House approved the measure on Wednesday, but the timetable for Senate action was in flux. If the Senate approves the bill, it would then go to President Biden to be signed into law.

During debate in the Senate, critics vented their dissatisfaction with the bill, which would suspend the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling for two years while cutting spending on domestic programs.

Several conservative Republicans wanted deeper spending cuts, while others criticized the spending figures for the Pentagon in the bill, saying they were too low and could hinder military readiness.

Ben Roberts-Smith, 44, was once hailed as the exemplar of an Australian soldier.Credit…Dan Himbrechts/EPA, via Shutterstock

Trial stains Australia’s most decorated soldier

The defamation case had been called the country’s trial of the century. Was its most decorated living soldier a war criminal? Yesterday, a judge effectively found that the answer was yes.

Four years ago, the soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, sued three Australian newspapers that had accused him of killing unarmed Afghan prisoners in cold blood. The judge ruled against him, finding that the newspapers had proved that their accounts of his actions were substantially true. Though it was not a criminal case, and Roberts-Smith was not on trial, it was the first time a war crimes allegation was examined in the country’s courts.

The judgment was a rare victory for the news media in Australia, whose notoriously harsh defamation laws have been criticized for favoring accusers. It will reverberate far beyond the case itself, as Australia continues to contend with the fallout of its 20-year mission in Afghanistan and the conduct of its elite special forces there.

China’s defense minister, Li Shangfu, center, in New Delhi.Credit…Manish Swarup/Associated Press

A U.S.-China thaw feels far away

A flurry of recent meetings between U.S. and Chinese officials seemed to signal an attempt to reduce tensions. But while Beijing has returned to the table, it has struck an even tougher posture, complicating President Biden’s predicted “thaw” in relations.

China has questioned Washington’s sincerity, pushing back on U.S. tech export controls by imposing its own restrictions, like a ban on U.S.-made chips.

Beijing also rejected an invitation for its defense minister, Li Shangfu, to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Singapore this weekend, the Pentagon said, calling the action an example of Beijing’s “concerning” unwillingness to engage on military issues.

Li, who was appointed to his position in March, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018 over the purchase of military equipment from Russia. Beijing demanded that sanctions against him be lifted to “create favorable conditions for dialogue.”

Analysis: “In the absence of dialogue, there are unacceptable risks to both sides,” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. That includes, she said, the risk of “sleepwalking into a conflict over Taiwan.”

Related: China is investing in open-source intelligence to mine public data from the Pentagon, think tanks and private companies for insight into the U.S. military, a report found.

Business: The Chinese-made C919 jet completed its first commercial flight, but despite the milestone, Western rivals still supply most of the country’s planes.


The War in Ukraine

The grandparents of a 9-year-old girl who died in a Russian missile strike on Kyiv.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times
  • A Russian missile attack on Kyiv killed three people, including a mother and her 9-year-old daughter.

  • The Russian border town of Shebekino is facing the frontline reality of the country’s war against Ukraine.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his NATO counterparts in Oslo to discuss prospects for Swedish membership in the alliance and the war in Ukraine.

Other Big Stories

Protests in Dakar yesterday.Credit…Leo Correa/Associated Press
  • Clashes erupted between protesters and security forces across Senegal after the country’s top opposition leader was sentenced to prison and barred from running in future elections.

  • The U.S. announced new sanctions yesterday on two warring military factions in Sudan and on companies linked to both sides.

  • Federal prosecutors have a 2021 recording of Donald Trump discussing a sensitive military document he kept after leaving office, two people briefed on the matter said.

  • Canada will require tobacco companies to put warnings on individual cigarettes.

  • Airbnb is suing New York City to undo new restrictions that limit short-term rentals.

The Week in Culture

  • E. Jean Carroll, who won a defamation case against Donald Trump, is working on a romance novel with his niece and one of his prominent critics, Mary Trump.

  • A Florida art dealer who laundered money made from selling counterfeit art was sentenced to over two years in prison.

  • Mustaches are making a comeback.

  • Beyoncé and Jay-Z paid $200 million for their new home. The sale was the most expensive residential real estate deal in California’s history.

  • The Scripps National Spelling Bee begins today. Can you guess what these 10 wacky words mean?

A Morning Read

Recovery operations on Lake Maggiore, Italy.Credit…Puricelli/EPA, via Shutterstock

The storm came out of nowhere last Sunday, interrupting evening drinks and strolls near a lake in northern Italy.

It also sank a boat, killing four people. But when 21 of the people on the boat were revealed to be Italian or Israeli intelligence agents, it ignited a flurry of conspiracy theories about the “spy party,” as some news media outlets labeled it.


The fallen Cotton Tree in Freetown, Sierra Leone.Credit…TJ Bade/Associated Press

Mourning Sierra Leone’s Cotton Tree

What’s known as the Cotton Tree, a symbol of freedom at the center of Sierra Leone’s foundation story, has been destroyed in a heavy storm. Only the splintered base of the tree, which was about 230 feet tall and roughly 400 years old, remains in the center of Freetown, the capital.

A kapok tree, it became part of Sierra Leone’s history at the end of the 18th century, when Africans formerly enslaved in the U.S., England, Jamaica and Canada, returned to Africa as free men and women. According to tradition, the tree offered shelter and became synonymous with refuge.

As Freetown developed into a modern capital, the tree stood at the center of a roundabout, near the president’s official residence and the High Court.

Its destruction last week was a reminder of the country’s vulnerability to extreme weather. “For us, the Cotton Tree wasn’t just a tree, it was a connection between the past, present and the future and we must strive to immortalise it,” President Julius Maada Bio tweeted.

Parts of the tree will be preserved in museums and official buildings. — Lynsey Chutel, a Briefings writer in Johannesburg


What to Cook

Credit…Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Add ripe peaches to these gingery meatballs.

What to Read

In “Kairos,” a torrid affair set in Cold War Berlin is a window into German history and cultural memory.

What to Watch

Our critic says the new animated “Spider-Man” is “delightful.” It’s being released internationally this month.

Where to Go

A Times Food editor who was born and raised in Los Angeles shares travel tips for her hometown.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword. Here’s a clue: When it’s midnight in Chicago, what time is it in Shanghai? (Five letters.)

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a lovely weekend! — Amelia and Justin

P.S. For Pride month, we’d like to hear from our L.G.B.T.Q. readers. Here’s a link to share your experience.

“The Daily” is about the campaign against transgender rights in the U.S.

Share your reflections at [email protected].

Lynsey Chutel wrote today’s Spotlight on Africa.

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