Headlines: December 17, 2018
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President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in an interview on ABC admitted that meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives continued from very early in the campaign all the way through to the election in November 2016. He also claimed that, “collusion is not a crime.” Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen – who has been sentenced to three years in prison – told prosecutors about the Trump tower meetings.
Representative Elijah Cummings said, also on Sunday, that he would like for Michael Cohen to testify before Congress when Democrats take control of the House in January. Mr. Cummings is likely to head the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His colleague, Representative Adam Schiff, who is expected to head the House Intelligence Committee, said last week that he had already been in touch with Cohen’s lawyers about delivering testimony before he begins his prison term.
The New York Times on Monday published details of a report on the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian hackers’ use of social media to influence the 2016 election. The effort was apparently quite strongly aimed at African Americans, in order to suppress turnout for the Democratic Party. The report named the St. Petersburg-based company called Internet Research Agency (IRA). According to the report, “The most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities and appear to have been focused on developing black audiences and recruiting black Americans as assets.” They drew on existing grievances in order to exploit them. The Pew Research Center had reported last year that black voter turnout rates sharply dropped in 2016, falling below that of whites. According to the Times, there are efforts on-going to this day from Russian sources to influence American public opinion. “One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.”
A federal judge in Texas has struck down the entire Affordable Care Act dealing a blow to Americans who rely on insurance companies to, among other things, not discriminate against them for pre-existing conditions. The US Supreme Court has already upheld the legality of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, which means the judge’s ruling will likely be overturned. Still, it throws into question the ability of millions of Americans to enroll for health plans in the new year. Democratic Senator Christopher Murphy, called the judge’s ruling, “a five-alarm fire,” and said, “Republicans just blew up our health care system.” The ruling was in response to a suit brought by Republicans. Former President Barack Obama tweeted on Saturday reminding people that it was, “the deadline to make sure you and the people you love have health insurance in 2019. So head over the HealthCare.gov to get covered!” Obama added that the ruling, “changes nothing for now.” Huffington Post cited a study showing that, “eliminating the Affordable Care Act would increase the national uninsured rate by 50 percent and lead to more than 17 million people losing health coverage.”
A number of Democratic lawmakers visited the tent encampment in Tornillo, Texas this weekend where US authorities are holding thousands of undocumented children in detention. Among those who visited were Texas Representative and former Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, California Representative Judy Chu, and Senators Tina Smith of Minnesota, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Beto O’Rourke addressed activists that were present during a visit to the tent center in Tornillo, Texas where the Trump administration is holding thousands of undocumented children.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced he is leaving the Trump administration at the end of the year. The increasingly cornered Zinke has been at the center of multiple corruption investigations much like his former colleague Scott Pruitt had been at the EPA. In fact the Interior Department’s Inspector General referred one investigation to the Justice Department in October. Trump tweeted Zinke’s imminent departure after months of reports that the White House was pushing for his resignation. The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of his private resignation letter cited that Zinke blamed his departure on, “vicious and politically motivated attacks.” His resignation does not absolve him of the legal probes he faces.
In an op-ed, Collin O’Mara the president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, wrote, “Zinke’s most lasting legacy will be the millions of acres of public lands degraded, the climate pollution increased, the outdoor recreational opportunities forsaken, the national monuments decimated and the wildlife species imperiled by an all-consuming energy-dominance agenda that irreparably violated President Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.'” Zinke is expected to be replaced by David Bernhardt, a man that the New York Times describes as, “a former oil lobbyist who has played a central role in enacting President Trump’s agenda of rolling back conservation measures and opening up public lands to drilling and mining.”
And, as a deadline fast approaches to pass a spending bill keeping the federal government funded, President Trump has found himself increasingly isolated on his threat to shutdown the government over his border wall. There are reports that very few Republicans support his demand for $5 billion of funding for a wall between the US and Mexico. Republican Senator John Cornyn said, “Everybody is looking to him for a signal about what he wants to do, and so far it’s not clear.” An unnamed Republican lawmaker told The Hill, “Trump will get the blame, but he won’t care. And the base will love him for it.” The deadline to pass a bill is December 21.
In international news, the UN climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland have wrapped up after 2 weeks. The resulting deal is focused on the implementation of the 2015 Paris Accord. But according to critics, “The final agreement left out directives on specific reductions in emissions by 2030. While it calls on wealthier countries to clarify how they will provide aid to less well-off nations, many of which are on the front lines of the climate crisis, more in-depth talks about developing countries needs were put off until next year.” Greenpeace Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said, “People expected action and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable.”