Headlines: December 14, 2018
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The US Senate on Thursday voted 56 to 41 to end military participation in the Saudi Arabian war on Yemen. It was the strongest signal from both parties of disapproval of the Trump Administration’s unconditional support of the Saudis. Soon after, the Senate passed a second resolution – this time unanimously – claiming that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was responsible for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and should be held accountable. According to the New York Times, “Together, the votes were an extraordinary break with Mr. Trump.” Senator Mike Lee of Utah explained, “What the Khashoggi event did, I think, was to focus on the fact that we have been led into this civil war in Yemen, half a world away, into a conflict in which few Americans that I know can articulate what American national security interest is at stake.”
Because the House passed a version of the Farm bill that included a rider preventing any resolutions on war powers before the end of the year, the House versions of the Senate resolutions will be taken up next year in the House when the Democratic Party takes majority control of that body.
Meanwhile the Pentagon sent a $331 million bill to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for refueling charges in the Yemen war. The US military apparently found an accounting error and realized that it had failed to charge the two Gulf Arab nations for the costs. The mistake was first discovered by Senator Jack Reed who is the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and it was reported by The Atlantic last week. According to CNN, “the US is working to recoup approximately $36.8 million for fuel and $294.3 million for flight hours.” The billing error draws attention to the intimate role that the US is playing in a war that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and exacerbated mass starvation.
The House on Thursday passed a resolution 394 to 1, labeling Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingya Muslims, “a genocide.” The vote comes just days after Time Magazine included in its Person of the Year, two Reuters journalists being held by the Myanmar Government. California Republican Ed Royce said, “There’s a moral obligation obviously here for Americans, for all of us — regardless of political party, regardless of ideology — to stand up and say, ‘Enough. No genocide on our watch. This has to end now.'” Trump has been silent on the matter.
In other news, President Trump addressed a meeting of governors elect on Thursday and responded to a press question about his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who is awaiting sentencing in charges arising from the Special Counsel investigation. President Trump on Thursday claimed his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn did not lie to the FBI. Associated Press released a fact check saying, “That’s not what the FBI said. And Flynn and prosecutors agree he lied to the FBI.”
In other news from the Special Counsel investigation, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who has just been sentenced to a 3-year prison term, gave an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired on Friday morning.
NBC reported on Thursday that Mr. Trump was in the room during the discussions of paying off two women that he apparently had had affairs with, ahead of the election. The media outlet says that a source has confirmed that, “Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women.”
Trump’s inaugural committee is also under investigation as per a Wall Street Journal report on Thursday. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have launched a criminal probe into whether the President’s inaugural committee misspent donor money and whether donors gave money to the committee in exchange for access to the President. According to the Journal, “Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.”
In Ohio, lawmakers on Thursday passed one of the most draconian anti-abortion billsin the nation – banning abortions around 6 weeks, when a fetal heart beat is first detected – which is usually the time when women first realize they are even pregnant. Gov. John Kasich, who is anti-abortion had nonetheless promised to veto the bill saying it was unconstitutional. But the bill passed both state houses with enough votes to override the Governor’s veto.
At the federal level, an Appeals Court ruled on Thursday that the Trump administration was not allowed to let employers opt-out of offering no-cost birth control to female employees. The Affordable Care Act had stipulated that employers must offer birth control coverage to women at no cost, with exemptions for religious organizations.
In another legal decision, a federal judge has allowed a lawsuit to move forward that challenges the Trump administration’s blanket denials of visas from 5 Muslim-majority nations. The Supreme Court had ruled in June that waivers should be granted in Trump’s “Muslim ban,” to people on a case-by-case basis who demonstrate hardship or prolonged family separation. But, under Trump the US State Department has issued blanket visa denials for thousands of people.
And finally the Guardian newspaper pointed out on Thursday that, “A steady rise in suicides involving firearms has pushed the rate of gun deaths in the US to its highest rate in more than 20 years, with almost 40,000 people killed in shootings in 2017.” The statement was based on statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.