Headlines: February 21, 2019
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is rallying the support of Democrats for a measure opposing President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration at the border. In a letter to both Democrats and Republicans she wrote, “The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated.” The measure, introduced by Representative Julian Castro, is expected to sail through the House. But in the Senate where Republicans still retain a majority, it is not clear what will happen. Senator Susan Collins has said she is considering voting with Democrats. Even if it passes both Houses Trump has said he will veto the measure. The Democratic Party intends to get Republicans on the record about where they stand on the measure and then join lawsuits against Trump usurping Congressional authority to appropriate funds. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler says he intends to hold hearings on the matter as well. Meanwhile a new poll has found that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s emergency declaration. A Hill-HarrisX poll released Wednesday found that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s actions while only 41% approve.
The US Justice Department is preparing for the release of a final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two year long investigation into the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller is expected to deliver his report to newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr by sometime next week. The Washington Post explained that the regulations defining the Special Counsel, “call for Mueller to submit to the attorney general a confidential explanation as to why he decided to charge certain individuals, as well as who else he investigated and why he decided not to charge those people. The regulations then call for the attorney general to report to Congress about the investigation.” Democrats have been demanding that the report be made public but Barr has not yet made it clear if he will release any part of it. In an interview with Chris Cuomo on CNN on Wednesday White House counselor Kellyanne Conway implied the report would be kept secret.
Meanwhile Trump’s former Attorney and fixer Michael Cohen will be publicly testifying to the House Oversight Committee on February 27th. In a statement House Committee chairman Elijah Cummings wrote, “I am pleased to announce that Michael Cohen’s public testimony before the Oversight Committee is back on, despite efforts by some to intimidate his family members and prevent him from appearing.” Cohen faces a 3-year prison sentence that will begin in a few months. He tweeted, “Looking forward to the #American people hearing my story in my voice! #truth”
In the wake of the New York Times publication of a lengthy investigative report this week into how the President has engaged in likely crimes of obstruction of justice, Trump tweeted angrily, “The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” A. G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, responded in a statement, “The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it’s dangerous…As I have repeatedly told President Trump face to face, there are mounting signs that this incendiary rhetoric is encouraging threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad.”
A white supremacist named Christopher Paul Hasson has been arrested in Maryland after federal law enforcement found a massive weapons cache at his home. Hasson was apparently planning a major domestic terrorist attack aimed at politicians, journalists, and even possibly Supreme Court justices. Among his targets was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In court documents filed this week government prosecutors wrote, “The defendant intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” He apparently had declared that he wanted, “focused violence,” in order to “establish a white homeland.” Most ominously he said, “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.”
The news of Hasson’s arrest comes at the same time as the Southern Poverty Law Center released a new report on Wednesday about the number of hate groups peaking in the US. In 2018, for four years in a row, the number of hate groups rose steadily. The organization lays the blame for the rise in hate groups on Trump. According to the report, “Trump has activated a growing fear in many white Americans who view their power as threatened by our country’s rapidly changing demographics. He is taking advantage of their rage against change.”
The Trump administration has blocked the citizenship status of an Alabama Muslim woman who left the US to be a part of the Islamic State. Twenty four year old Hoda Muthana went to Syria where she married an Islamic State soldier. She now lives in a Syrian refugee camp with her son and has renounced her allegiance to ISIS. Although she was born in the US, the Trump administration is claiming she has no right to citizenship. Trump had previously denounced other countries for not taking back former ISIS fighters who were their citizens.
In other news, the Washington Post reported that Trump is setting up a panel to study whether climate change is a national security threat. The need for the panel is curious given that many reports from his own federal government agencies have confirmed that it is indeed a real and growing threat to the health and safety of Americans. The committee will have 12 members, one of whom is slated to be a White House adviser named William Happer. According to the Post, “Happer, an emeritus professor of physics at Princeton University, has said that carbon emissions linked to climate change should be viewed as an asset rather than a pollutant.” According to one expert named Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, “This is the equivalent of setting up a committee on nuclear-weapons proliferation and having someone lead it who doesn’t think nuclear weapons exist.” Femia added, “It’s honestly a blunt-force political tool designed to shut the national security community up on climate change.”
The US Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against excessive fines and property seizures by state-level law enforcement. The Constitution bars excessive fines and in the past that was upheld at the federal government level. Now, for the first time the Supreme Court has said that that standard ought to apply to states as well. In a unanimous decision the justices ruled in favor of an Indiana man named Tyson Timbs who said that police seized his valuable car after arresting him on heroin trafficking charges. For years civil liberties organizations like the ACLU had accused states of seizing the property of those arrested as a way to increase state revenues. Reacting to the ruling ACLU lawyer Nusrat Choudhury said, “The excessive fines clause is now clearly held to be a safeguard when state and local courts and police see people as dollar signs.”
And finally Pope Francis has opened a historic summit at the Vatican on Thursday entirely devoted to the growing Catholic Church scandal of priest-led pedophilia. Speaking to the nearly 200 Catholic Church leaders who were summoned from all over the world, Pope Francis said, “We hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice.” The four-day summit is intended to educate the Catholic leaders about the extent of the problem and tackle solutions. The New York Times explained that, “Survivors of clerical abuse, their advocates and faithful disheartened and disgusted by the failure to address the abuses are demanding that the church enshrine in Canon Law a policy of zero tolerance for abusive priests and bishops who cover for them.” But the Vatican has made it clear it will not adopt such a policy.