Headlines: February 19, 2020
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Reports emerged late on Tuesday that Attorney General William Barr is considering resigning from his position in the face of continued public taunting by President Donald Trump. According to an unnamed source within the Trump administration referring to Barr, “He has his limits.” The Post explained that, “Trump has defied Barr’s requests, both public and private, to keep quiet on matters of federal law enforcement. It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether Barr had made his posture known directly to Trump. The administration officials said Barr seemed to be sharing his position with advisers in hopes the president would get the message that he should stop weighing in publicly on the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigations.” Last week in an interview with ABC News, Barr said that Trump’s tweets on the matter of Roger Stone’s sentencing recommendations, were making it “impossible” for him to do his job. Meanwhile, unbowed, Trump declared himself the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer” – a title that is traditionally claimed by the Attorney General. Speaking to reporters Trump also admitted that his tweets make Barr’s job harder but added, “We have a great attorney general and he’s working very hard.” Meanwhile top Republican lawmakers rallied around Barr including Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and Representative Kevin McCarthy, all of whom signed on to a letter saying that Barr was, “a man of the highest character and unquestionable integrity.”
Trump on Tuesday issued pardons and sentence commutations for 11 people, with the highest profile clemency granted to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, who had been serving a 14-year sentence on a corruption conviction. Blagojevich had been a contestant on Trump’s show The Celebrity Apprentice. Republican state lawmakers in Illinois slammed Trump’s decision saying that Blagojevich was, “the face of public corruption.” Trump also pardoned Paul Pogue, a man who was serving a sentence over tax fraud and whose family donated $200,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign. And he pardoned Bernard Kerik, a former New York Police Commissioner who has been pointed out as being, “a frequent Mar-a-Lago guest and Fox News pundit.” Analysts pointed out a striking pattern that Trump’s pardons and sentence commutations of people who have committed very similar crimes to his own.
The top six Democratic Presidential contenders are debating one another in Nevada on Wednesday evening. For the first time former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will take to the debate stage – within days of two new and incriminating videos of him making disturbing comments surfaced. In 2019 Bloomberg denigrated the rights of transgender people saying at a forum less than a year ago, “If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people.” Also, independent journalist Benjamin Dixon found a second video of Bloomberg making racist statements about black and brown people. Meanwhile President Trump has gleefully jumped on the criticisms facing Bloomberg saying the billionaire was engaged in, “nothing less than a large scale illegal campaign contribution. He is ‘spreading’ money all over the place, only to have recipients of his cash payments, many former opponents, happily joining or supporting his campaign. Isn’t that called a payoff?”
A new national poll released Wednesday confirms the large lead that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has developed in the Democratic primary. A day after the latest NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll showed Sanders at 31% popularity, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Wednesday has found he has 32% of Americans’ support. Bloomberg has risen to become Sanders’s closest competitor with less than half of Sanders’ total at 14%. Meanwhile the Public Policy Institute of California has found that in the nation’s most populous state Sanders has also taken a commanding lead with 32% of public support just about 2 weeks ahead of Super Tuesday when Californians will vote in the primary. In South Carolina, former Vice President Joe Biden has been hoping to shore up his flagging candidacy with the support of black voters but a new poll in that state shows Sanders having climbed as well to be neck-in-neck with Biden at 23% each.
Meanwhile President Trump traveled to Los Angeles, California on Tuesday to meet with organizers of the 2028 Olympics. He used his presence in the overwhelmingly Democratic city to slam local and state leaders for the continuing crisis of homelessness. Protesters greeted the President’s travel route holding up signs like “Jail Trump,” and “Rotten Orange.” Reuters reported that his four-day tour across California was, “aimed at making himself a distraction as Democratic presidential candidates focus on the Nevada caucuses.”
The state of Mississippi has been struggling with record-breaking flooding as hundreds of homes in the city of Jackson remain underwater. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate and Gov. Tate Reeves has declared a state of emergency. According to the Weather Channel, “More rain will soak parts of the flood-weary South through Thursday, adding to what has been one of the wettest Februaries and winters to date from Mississippi to the Carolinas.” Greater precipitation is consistent with predictions of global warming. The United Nations this week released a report concluding that the oil and gas industry has had a much greater impact on the climate than previously thought especially through the release of methane. The amount of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – has more than doubled over the past two hundred years. In spite of such reports, the Trump administration has continued its push for greater exploitation of fossil fuel resources. A new report points out that Utah’s famous Slickrock bike trail could be auctioned off for oil and gas leases.
In international news, China has reportedly expelled three reporters working for the Wall Street Journal. The Journal explained that the expulsion was in retaliation for a recent op-ed that it published and that it was, “the first time in the post-Mao era that the Chinese government has expelled multiple journalists from one international news organization at the same time.” Simultaneously, the US changed its rules for Chinese media outlets operating in the US labeling them “propaganda.” The US State Department informed the outlets that include the official state media Xinhua, that they would need permission before buying US property and would have to turn over lists of employees.
The latest infection count for the dangerous new coronavirus that originated in China is about 75,000 people. The vast majority of those infected – 74,185 – are in China. The latest death toll from the disease has now topped 2,000. Passengers on a cruise ship called the Diamond Princess ended their 2-week quarantine period this week disembarking in Japan.
And finally, the humanitarian catastrophe at the Syrian-Turkish border continues unabated with about 900,000 people desperately fleeing the relentless bombing campaign of President Bashar Al Assad and his Russian allies. Most of the refugees are women and children and their displacement represents the largest exodus since the war began nearly a decade ago. So far 12 children have died from exposure to the freezing cold as families find shelter in tent encampments near the Turkish border.