Headlines: February 20, 2020
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The Democratic Party’s Presidential debate on Wednesday night featured six of the top polling candidates with former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg joining in for the first time. The debate took place in Nevada where the next primary contest is scheduled this Saturday in the form of a caucus. Bloomberg, who has spent more than $300 million of his own money to blanket media outlets with commercials, set high expectations for his appearance but left most analysts disappointed. Unlike the earlier debates, candidates did not hold back from criticizing one another and Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular strongly challenged Bloomberg on allegations of sexism, misogynist language, and racist policies like stop-and-frisk, and redlining. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who is the current front runner held his own, and also pushed back against Bloomberg. However questions from panelists ended up similar to previous debates with echoes of right wing talking points raised as challenges to progressive policy ideas. Here are some highlights from the debate.
Meanwhile a new Huff Post/You Gov poll found that Democrats are largely satisfied with the field of candidates running to be the party’s nominee and see Senator Sanders as the front runner, likely to win the nomination. Sanders also cinched the endorsement of one of the nation’s most prominent Muslim advocacy organizations, Emgage Action. According to the organization’s CEO Wa’el Alzayat, “More than any other presidential candidate, Sen. Sanders has built a historically inclusive and forward-thinking movement: one that represents America as a set of ideas grounded in the belief that all humans are equal and worthy of a dignified life.” Emgage Action polled its members and about 75% backed Sanders. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, now retired but still a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, said this week that it was possible there would be a “brokered convention” in Milwaukee this summer. He told Associated Press, “We’ve had brokered conventions before, and we’ve always come up with good candidates. It’s not the end of the world. It just slows the process down.”
President Donald Trump’s friend and colleague Roger Stone has just been sentenced to more than 3 years in prison after being convicted of multiple federal charges in relation to the Special Counsel investigation of the President. Trump has flouted norms over the past two weeks openly attempting to interfere in the sentencing recommendations of his friend. Attorney General William Barr, who pulled back on the 7-9 year sentence recommendations made by federal prosecutors has said he may resign over Trump’s interference. Still, the federal judge in the case, Amy Berman Jackson, who Trump has also improperly targeted, said in a speech during the sentencing hearing that Stone was, “was not prosecuted for standing up for the president; he was prosecuted for covering up for the president.” She added, “The truth still exists, the truth still matters….Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy. If it goes unpunished it will not be a victory for one party or another; everyone loses.” Earlier in the day Trump tweeted a video from a Fox News show hinting that he may use his pardon powers to redeem his friend Roger Stone. And, Trump’s supporters are now apparently pushing the President and his administration to purge anyone involved in the Special Counsel’s investigation at the Justice Department.
In the days following Trump’s recent pardons and sentence commutations of 11 people, more details have emerged about the President’s decision-making process. The New York Times reports that, “The process bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame, personal empathy and a shared sense of persecution.” Additionally, “Advisers said there is little rhyme or reason to how Mr. Trump chooses clemency recipients. He meets with advisers every few weeks to discuss various cases. Once he makes a decision, he tends to announce them right away, without bothering to draft a communications strategy, reasoning that there is no point in anyone sitting in prison longer than needed.” Meanwhile a lawyer for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made a bombshell assertion on Wednesday that Trump had made him an offer, through former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, to pardon him if Assange covered up Russia’s role in leaking emails from the Democratic Party’s server. Rohrabacher allegedly made the offer in August 2017 during a visit to London where Assange was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid arrest. Rohrabacher has denied the incident.
John Rood, a top Pentagon official who pushed back against Trump’s decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine last year, has resigned. Mr. Rood, who is the undersecretary of defense for policy resigned at Trump’s request and appears to be part of the impeachment-related purge of officials who stood up to the President, including Alexander Vindman and Gordon Sondland. And Trump just installed a long-time loyalist Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence – a position that oversees all 17 government intelligence agencies. Grenell apparently has no intelligence experience.
In immigration news a federal judge has found the US government in contempt over the deportation of five immigrant youth who should have been eligible to remain in the US under a program for abused children. And, in a separate case a judge in Arizona ruled in favor of detained migrants who charged detention facilities held them in inhumane and cruel conditions.
Governor Gavin Newsom of California addressed his state’s legislature this week on the issue of homelessness attempting to revive a housing bill that failed to pass the state senate. Using strong language Newsom said that, “it’s a disgrace that the richest state in the richest nation, succeeding across so many sectors, is falling so far behind to properly house, heal and humanely treat so many of its own people.”
In international news a major attack in Germany linked to a far-right racist group has resulted in 9 deaths. A gun-toting man killed nine people of immigrant backgrounds in the town of Hanau near Frankfurt. The 43-year old man was found dead in his home later. German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the nation saying, “There are many indications that the perpetrator acted out of far-right and racist motives, driven by hatred of people of different origin, different faith or different appearance…Racism is poison, hatred is poison that exists in our society and has been behind far too many crimes.”
More deaths have been reported from the coronavirus strain that continues to spread including two former cruise ship passengers that disembarked in Japan after a 14-day quarantine. Iran reported two new deaths linked to the disease and South Korea announced its first coronavirus-related fatality.