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Biden rounds out his Pentagon team with Russia expert Celeste Wallander

President Biden is nominating Celeste Wallander as his assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, a crucial position and one of his last remaining foreign policy posts, Axios has learned.

The big picture: By tapping Wallander, president and CEO of U.S.-Russia Foundation, Biden is rounding out his Pentagon team with an academic and Russia expert respected on both sides of the aisle.


  • “Celeste brings great experience in and out of government from both at the Pentagon and the National Security Council, but also in the think-tank world and in academia,” said David Kramer, a former senior State Department official in the second Bush administration.
  • "She has deep policy expertise in key regions, experience in getting things done in the Pentagon, and a track record as a gifted manager and leader," said Michèle Flournoy, an ex-Pentagon official under President Obama. "She will bring excellent judgment and proven experience in defense diplomacy to the job."

Why it matters: The assistant secretary of international security affairs typically travels with the secretary of Defense to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

  • The job holder ensures the Pentagon's broad — and specific — policy imperatives are conveyed to foreign governments.
  • The assistant secretary also helps approve weapons sales and manage relationships with foreign militaries.

What's next: Wallander will require Senate confirmation and, if approved, will report to Colin Kahl, the under secretary of Defense for policy.

  • While Kahl's nomination sparked controversy with his old social media activity, he was eventually confirmed 49-45.
  • An ultra-marathoner, Wallander received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and doctorate from Yale.

Go deeper: As Obama's Russia director at the NSC, Wallander proposed a range of options in the summer of 2016 to deter Russian President Vladimir Putinfrom further meddling in the U.S. presidential election, according to David Shimer, in his book, "Rigged."

  • More recently, she asserted that Putin is responding to the challenge posed by opposition leader Alexei Navalny from a position of weakness, not strength.

What they're saying: “The leadership is feeling quite insecure at home and abroad,” Wallander told PBS Newshour in April.

What to watch at the Olympics today: Gymnastics, golf, 3x3 basketball, swimming

5 events to watch today...

  • 🤸‍♀️ Men’s gymnastics: Team USA’s Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone compete in the individual all-around final. Coverage starts at 6:15 a.m. on Peacock (watch the replay at 8 p.m. ET on NBC)
  • 🏀 3x3 Basketball: The women’s gold medal game between the U.S. and Russia starts at 8:55 a.m. ET on USA Network. Russia and Latvia will play in the men’s final at 9:25 a.m. ET.
  • 🏌️ Men’s golf: Round one tees off at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Golf Channel or stream on nbcolympics.com.
  • 🏊 Swimming: Men’s 800m freestyle, 200m breaststroke and 100m freestyle finals and women’s 200m butterfly final. Coverage starts at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
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National parks "drowning in tourists"

Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National Parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

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Facebook's next chapter: Build the "metaverse"

Facebook's "next chapter," Mark Zuckerberg says, is to be prime builder of "the metaverse" — an open, broadly distributed, 3D dimension online where, he says, we will all conduct much of our work and personal lives.

The big picture: Zuckerberg admits Facebook will only be one of many companies building this next-generation model of today's internet — but he also intends Facebook to lead the pack.

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CDC asks the vaccinated to help save the unvaccinated from themselves

The Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.

The big picture: America's "pandemic of the unvaccinated" has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back — in some cases, even for the vaccinated.

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Least persuadable unvaccinated Americans are largely white and Republican

Data: Axios-Ipsos Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination — the group who say they'll never get one — tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable, according to an analysis of our Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant triggers more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, the Biden administration and even some high-profile GOP political and media figures are trying to figure out how to nudge the country's vaccination rate higher.

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Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Female Olympians in Tokyo are rejecting the uniforms that have long defined their sports, highlighting a double standard that exists how women dress in competition vs. men.

Driving the news: During their qualifying round Sunday, Germany's women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards, eschewing the conventional leg-barring leotards worn by most female gymnasts.

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Simone Biles won't defend Olympic title at gymnastics all-around final in Tokyo

U.S. gymnastics great Simone Biles won't defend her Olympic title in the upcoming all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many. pic.twitter.com/6ILdtSQF7o

— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 28, 2021

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Eric Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Georgia congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the insurrection. He said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.

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