Headlines: February 13, 2019
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President Donald Trump has, in theory, agreed to sign a bipartisan agreement to fund the government and avert a second shutdown. Earlier in the week a Congressional committee tasked with finding agreement between both parties announced an deal that would include funding for about 55 miles of border wall between the US and Mexico, costing about $1.375 billion instead of the $5.7 billion Trump was demanding. On Tuesday Trump said he wasn’t happy with the bill but argued that he would find a way to build the entire wall anyway.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said to reporters, “I have recommended that if it becomes what we think it is, I do recommend he sign it.” He added, “I think he’s got a pretty good deal here.” Still, there is never a guarantee with Trump. In December he looked ready to sign the deal made then but after hearing intense criticism from Fox News pundits, Trump backed off and refused to sign, initiating a 35-day partial government shutdown – the longest in history. A key Republican Senator, Richard Shelby said he told the President, “that he’s getting a good down payment,” on the wall and pointed out that there will be more than $22 billion in funding for border security – a figure Trump appears to have grabbed on to as he tweeted on Tuesday evening, “Will be getting almost $23 BILLION for Border Security. Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!”
In other news, the Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, has been found guilty on all the charges he faced in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York. Guzmán had been extradited to the US about two years ago and his trial lasted several months. American prosecutors, according to the Washington Post, said that he, “pumped drugs into the United States, bribed Mexican officials, laundered money and repeatedly commanded his ‘sicarios’ — or ‘assassins’ — to commit brutal acts of violence.” Richard P. Donoghue, a US Attorney for New York said in a statement, “Today, Guzmán Loera has been held accountable for the tons of illegal narcotics he trafficked for more than two decades, the murders he ordered and committed, and the billions of dollars he reaped while causing incalculable pain and suffering to those devastated by his drugs.”
In other news, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he plans to set up a vote on the Green New Deal resolution that Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey recently introduced. Markey and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the resolution at a press conference last week. McConnell announced that he wants a vote on the Green New Deal resolution. Despite the fact that it is very popular among the public the resolution will likely fail the Senate with Republicans controlling 53 out of 100 Senate seats. McConnell likely wants vulnerable Democratic Senators, including Presidential contenders to go on record voting for the deal in order to exploit their vote politically in the months to come.
The Republican controlled Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday announced the results of its 2-year long investigation into election wrongdoing. Committee chair Richard Burr said in an interview, “There is no factual evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” But according to NBC, which first reported the news, “investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented between Trump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media.” Mother Jones spoke with several Democratic Senators on the committee including independent Angus King who caucuses with Democrats, Dianne Feinstein, and Mark Warner who said the committee had not yet discussed a conclusion and that there were still interviews to be conducted.
Senators may confirm Trump’s nominee to head the US Justice Department as early as Wednesday. William Barr, who was once Attorney General during the George H. W. Bush tenure, is likely to garner enough votes in the Senate to be confirmed. On Tuesday the Senate voted 55 to 44 to advance his nomination for a vote. At the heart of many Democratic concerns is whether Barr would remain impartial when Special Counsel Robert Mueller releases the final results of his investigation into President Trump and his associates.
The Senate on Tuesday voted on a 662-page conservation measure, 92 to 8 protecting millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of rivers across the US. It is considered the most important and large-scale conservation measure in a decade. Senator McConnell lauded its passage saying, “It touches every state, features the input of a wide coalition of our colleagues, and has earned the support of a broad, diverse coalition of many advocates for public lands, economic development and conservation.” The Washington Post remarked, “It’s a paradoxical win for conservation at a time when President Trump has promoted development on public lands and scaled back safeguards established by his predecessors.” Many of the protections in the bill are permanent. It includes a federal program that uses funds from offshore drilling to conserve land. The bill was years in the making and soon heads to the House where it also enjoys majority support.
Six police officers in Vallejo, California – a city north of San Francisco – fatally shot and killed a black man who had been sleeping in his car outside a fast food restaurant. On Tuesday, the family of 20-year old Willie McCoy, who was a rapper going by the name Willie Bo, said he had been racially profiled by police. McCoy was slumped over the steering wheel of his car sleeping when officers found him and tried to wake him. They say he had a firearm in his lap and when he awoke his hands briefly moved to his lap, prompting officers to fire shots within a 4-second span. He died on the scene. McCoy’s cousin David Harrison told the Guardian Newspaper, “No one trusts the police in Vallejo… We are being targeted … Police have a campaign of executing young black men who fit a certain profile. Willie dressed the part. He represents hip-hop music. They are profiled.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom gave his first State of the State address on Tuesday. During his speech he slammed Trump.
And finally in international news, a bus in Southeast Iran carrying members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been attacked by a suicide bomber. At least 20 people are dead and so far no one has taken responsibility for it. Here in the US, federal prosecutors have charged a former US Air Force Counterintelligence operative with spying for Iran. According to authorities, Monica Elfriede Witt apparently defected to Iran and helped the Iranian government including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to target some of her former co-workers in the US intelligence community. Among the specific charges she is accused of is handing over the details of a secret Pentagon program. Later on today’s show we’ll speak with Medea Benjamin about her book Inside Iran. We’ll get a history lesson in light of this week’s 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution there.