Headlines: April 5, 2019
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:18 — 7.6MB)
President Donald Trump is visiting the US border with Mexico on Friday, specifically to tout the building of a border wall in Calexico. Except that the wall is not a wall, it’s more of a fence. And, construction began under President Obama, not as a new fence, but as an upgrade to an existing fence using recycled materials. That has not stopped the President from using the optics at the border to make claims about his anti-immigrant agenda. Last fall Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen had a plaque attached to the Calexico fence with Trump’s name on it. The plaque reads, “This plaque was installed on October 26, 2018, to commemorate the completion of the first section of President Trump’s border wall.” Trump’s Friday visit to the border comes a day after he backed off on his threat to shut down the Southern border saying he would be giving Mexico a year to stop the flow of illegal drugs. Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador has remained silent on the face of Trump’s belligerence. Trump has threatened to slap a 25% tariff on auto exports from Mexico in retaliation. He also tweeted that this threat would “supersede the USMCA,” which is NAFTA’s replacement, yet to be ratified by Congress.
In other immigration news Trump has decided to pull his nomination of a man named Ron Vitiello to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department. Speaking to reporters on Friday morning Trump said, “We’re going in a little different direction. Ron’s a good man but we’re going in a tougher direction. We want to go in a tougher direction.” The move came as a surprise to many including ICE officials Vitiello has been serving as acting ICE director but earlier this year the union representing ICE agents spoke out against him. In a letter to Senators National ICE Council President Chris Crane wrote, “Never before have we seen so many warning signs with respect to a nominee prior to confirmation and we believe him to be unfit to serve as director.” It is not yet clear who Trump will nominate instead.
Meanwhile the International Rescue Committee released a report on Friday entitled, “Disorder by design at the U.S.-Mexico border,” in which the humanitarian organization details how the Trump administration has manufactured a crisis at the US-Mexico border. The report also identifies that the real crisis is taking place in Central America – precisely the region where the US State Department just announced it would cut aid to. The report is based on interviews with hundreds of refugees fleeing insecurity and violence in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
In other news the US economy added 196,000 jobs in the month of March according to the latest jobs report. There had been sluggish job growth in February but economists are optimistic about the latest numbers issued by the Labor Department. But just a day earlier an independent report found that job layoffs for the first quarter of this financial year hit their highest level in a decade, jumping up by a whopping 35% from a year ago. Andrew Challenger, a spokesperson for the firm that issued the report said, “Several indications, such as the number of companies filing for bankruptcy or closing operations, suggest we’re heading for a downturn. The recent proposal to close the southern border adds to the uncertainty and may contribute to more cuts as companies try to adapt.”
President Trump has picked Herman Cain to join the Federal Reserve Board, causing disbelief among observers. Cain has no experience in finance and is known only as a pizza chain executive and Tea Party leader who was a Republican Party candidate for the Presidential nomination. He is also under a cloud of suspicion for facing allegations of sexual harassment from multiple women. Trump explained to reporters on Thursday why he picked Cain to one of two vacant positions on the Federal Reserve Board. Trump’s second nominee, Stephen Moore, has also come under severe criticism for being hyper-partisan and inexperienced in finance as Cain. Trump has strongly criticized the decisions taken by the current Federal Reserve Board chairman Jerome Powell.
US trade talks with China are wrapping up this week as China’s vice premier and special trade envoy, Liu He’s visit to Washington DC comes to an end. Trump has been touting an “epic” trade deal with China but on Thursday stopped short of announcing a deal when speaking to reporters alongside Mr. Liu at the White House. There are tentative plans to hold a major summit when the deal is finalized but some disagreement has emerged as Trump wants to hold it at his personal golf resort in Florida while the Chinese want a more neutral location such as Washington DC.
A day after Congressman Richard Neal the Chair of the House Ways and Means committee requested Trump’s tax returns from the IRS, the President is quickly maneuvering to block the returns. The Washington Post called the maneuver, “an unprecedented step that might lead to a constitutional challenge and catapult the issue into federal court.” Trump has claimed that the Attorney General would be responding to the request even though Mr. Neal has tapped the IRS. Neal has done so using a 1924 provision of the federal tax code that reads, the treasury secretary, “shall furnish . . . any return or return information specified” in a request from the head of the House or Senate tax-writing committees. That language leaves almost no wiggle room. Trump and his Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday both claimed that because Trump was under audit those tax returns would not be available. Neither have explained why that would be the case.
The annual G7 meeting is taking place in France and as foreign ministers from those nations traveled there on Friday, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo was notably absent. The member nations include Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada, the European Union, the US, and France. Last year when the meeting took place in Canada, President Trump caused massive disarray when he insulted the host nation, refused to sign a joint communiqué, and left the meeting early. G7 members are wary this year of taking on topics that could spark disagreement. Among the issues being discussed this year are how to deal with citizens who joined the Islamic State and their families. Britain, which is still struggling on how to exit the European Union, is hoping to emphasize its continuing importance on the world stage. And the host nation, France, continues to be enveloped by on-going Yellow Vest protests against President Emanuel Macron.