Headlines: February 14, 2019
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 7:51 — 7.2MB)
The US House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen in a rebuke to President Donald Trump. The vote was 248-177 with 18 Republicans siding with Democrats. The Senate already passed a similar measure last year 56 to 41 but the past Republican leadership in the House refused to hold a vote. Now, with Democrats in power in the House the bill moves forward and the Senate is likely to pass its version of the bill in the coming weeks. House Republicans did get through an amendment that the US would continue its intelligence sharing partnership with Saudi Arabia whenever, “appropriate in the national security interest of the United States.” It is not clear if the President will sign the bill or not.
In news from the Special Counsel’s investigation, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort repeatedly lied to prosecutors even after agreeing to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s team. Manafort is currently awaiting sentencing on other charges. The ruling on Wednesday could affect the severity of his sentence. According to the New York Times, “the judge found, he lied about his contacts with a Russian associate during the campaign and after the election. Prosecutors claim that the associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, has ties to Russian intelligence, and have been investigating whether he was involved in Russia’s covert campaign to influence the election results.” Additionally, “Mr. Manafort joins a string of former Trump aides who have been found to have lied to federal investigators about their involvement with Russians or their intermediaries, including Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser; George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser; and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer and lawyer.”
Meanwhile Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez introduced a bi-partisan bill on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Russia as punishment for attempted election interference. The Senate had taken up a similar bill last year that failed to pass. This version is apparently tougher and would, according to Reuters, target “Russian banks that support efforts to interfere in foreign elections; the country’s cyber sector; new sovereign debt; and individuals deemed to ‘facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.'” Even if the bill passes both Congressional chambers, Trump may not sign it. He has been reluctant in the past to hold Russia accountable. Senator Menendez explained, “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress.”
A new poll on the bi-partisan legislation to avert a second shutdown has found strong support among the public. About sixty percent of Americans like the current agreement that has $1.375 billion in funding for 55 miles of border fencing, 24% want Trump to accept the deal but then declare a national emergency to get the rest of his coveted funds, and 16% thinks he should refuse to sign the deal even if it means the government shutting down for the second time. Rightwing commentators are encouraging Trump to not sign the deal by the February 15th deadline. Rabid right-winger Ann Coulter said, “Trump talks a good game on the border wall but it’s increasingly clear he’s afraid to fight for it.” It was exactly this kind of rhetoric last year that pushed Trump into rejecting the first agreement to fund the government and led to a record-breaking 35-day shutdown. It remains to be seen if Trump will give in to Congress and the public or listen to Fox News and other anti-immigrant pundits.
A House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday became heated when Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar grilled US Special Representative to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams over his past. Abrams had served in the Ronald Reagan Administration where he had been involved in several foreign interventions, most of which Congress appeared ready to sweep under the rug. But Omar raised them during the hearing on Venezuela, sparking defensive responses from Abrams. Omar’s colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York reacted to the exchange on Twitter saying that Omar, “is a Somali refugee. She has felt the ravages of war. Watching her question Trump’s envoy to VZ, who pled guilty to several Iran-Contra crimes, feels like justice.” Meanwhile several Code Pink activists who protested Abrams at the hearing were arrested including two recent guests on our show, Ariel Gold and Medea Benjamin.
Omar had come under fire earlier this week for calling out members of Congress for being beholden to campaign donations through AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. When Trump called on her to resign over her comments and called her apology “lame,” Omar lashed back on Wednesday saying on Twitter, “You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?”
Activists seeking to strengthen and expand the Social Security program declared Wednesday Scrap the Cap Day. It is an annual marker of what the group Patriotic Millionaires says is the, “day that someone earning one million dollars per year will be done paying into Social Security tax, …. for the rest of the year.” Ninety percent of Americans will continue paying Social Security taxes all year long because they don’t meet the earnings cap. To mark that day Senator Bernie Sanders revived his Social Security Expansion Act aimed at increasing the benefits paid out to retirees, removing the cap on earnings, and increasing taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.
The administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA has resigned after less than two years on the job. Brock Long who became the face of the Trump administration’s response to California’s wildfires and several major hurricanes resigned. He had come under investigation for misusing tax-payer funded property for personal gain when it was revealed that he used government vehicles to travel to and from Washington DC and his home in North Carolina. According to the Washington Post, “Long’s improper use of government resources cost taxpayers $94,000 in staff salary, $55,000 in travel expenses and $2,000 in vehicle maintenance, the DHS inspector general determined.” A FEMA spokesperson said his resignation was not related to the misuse of government property. Long apparently had paid the government back. He was also known to have had a tense relationship with Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen who is his direct supervisor.