Headlines: February 5, 2019
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 7:52 — 7.2MB)
Federal prosecutors in New York have hit President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee with a subpoena over internal documents. The committee is under criminal investigation for how it raised and spent $100 million in funds for the President’s inauguration in January 2017. The Wall Street Journal, which obtained a copy of the subpoena, said it, “requests documents related to the committee’s donors and spending…including communications about payments made directly by donors to vendors—which would flout disclosure rules.” Additionally, “Federal prosecutors are also seeking documents related to a Los Angeles financier who gave $900,000 to the committee through his private-equity firm and once registered as a foreign agent working on behalf of the Sri Lankan government.”
In other news, President Trump has named Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as permanent Secretary. Bernhardt will be replacing Ryan Zinke – the latest in a long series of Trump administration officials leaving under a cloud of ethics scandals. Bernhardt served as deputy Interior Secretary under Zinke. As is his custom, Trump announced Bernhardt’s promotion on Twitter on Monday, saying, “David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!” According to the New York Times, “While Mr. Zinke had been the public face of some of the largest rollbacks of public-land protections in the nation’s history, Mr. Bernhardt was the one quietly pulling the levers to carry them out, opening millions of acres of land and water to oil, gas and coal companies.” Critics have denounced Bernhardt’s past career as a lobbyist for oil and gas companies – companies that he will now be regulating. Bernhardt only narrowly won confirmation to his position as Deputy. Now, he faces the same scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to lead the Interior Department. Congressman Raúl Grijalva, who is chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, remarked, “The president putting him in charge of regulating his former clients is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration.”
In the latest news from Virginia, Ralph Northam remains firm in his position to remain Governor despite an outcry over a racist yearbook photo. Now, his Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, who would be next in line if Northam were to resign, has come under a cloud of suspicion over allegations of sexual assault from 2004. The allegations emerged on Sunday night on a right wing website and then made headlines in mainstream media. Mr. Fairfax denounced the allegation and even implied that Northam’s supporters may have started a “whisper campaign,” to squash his ascent to the Governorship, saying, “Does anybody think it’s any coincidence that on the eve of potentially my being elevated that that’s when this smear comes out?” He later admitted he had no evidence to suggest Northam was behind it. The sexual assault allegations had come up in the past and Fairfax said that the Washington Post had looked into them in 2017 and when they could not corroborate them, the paper decided not to publish. Meanwhile Northam continues to weigh his options. Republicans are gleeful about the prospect of him leaving, angry about his recent support for expanding abortion access.
President Trump will be delivering his State of the Union on Tuesday night – one week later than he would have given it. Reports are emerging that the most divisive president in modern history will call for “unity,” and is likely to face deep skepticism as he begins his third year in office. White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway told reporters that Trump will, “call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution.” She said, “He’s calling for cooperation.” But Trump has shown few signs of softening his hardline approach to many policy issues, most importantly funding for his border wall – which he refused to budge on, leading to the longest federal government shutdown in history. Now, the new deadline for funding the government is approaching fast on February 15.
Meanwhile a number of Democratic Representatives plan on skipping the State of the Union address, including John Lewis and Hank Johnson of Georgia. Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen, who skipped last year’s address will again boycott it saying, “I will not attend the State of the Union once again this year. I’ll come to the House Chamber for the State of the Union the next time I can hear from a president who will tell the truth about the State of the Union.” Other Democrats plan on bringing immigrants and their advocates to Trump’s address – which is sure to be rife with anti-immigrant sentiment as it has been in the past. Stacey Abrams, who ran for Georgia Governor, will be delivering the official Democratic response to the State of the Union and it is now reported that she is considering a Senate run.
The federal government this week begins construction on part of a border wall with Mexico – in the state of Texas. Just about one year ago, Congress approved $600 million in funding for a 33-mile stretch of the US border in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. Customs and Border Protection released plans for the wall last fall disappointing conservationists as the wall will cut through a sensitive butterfly habitat. The National Butterfly Center posted a photo of an excavator on their property on Monday, citing a law enforcement officer who told them, “effective tomorrow we will have NO ACCESS to our own land south of the levee.” The Center added, “We know this is illegal and will be taking legal action tomorrow. Stay tuned! #RESIST.” Additionally, indigenous groups denounced the building of the wall, worried that there may be sacred burial grounds in the path of the construction and have set up a protest camp in the area. Juan Mancias of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe explained his concerns to reporters.
New Jersey has become the fourth state to approve a $15 an hour minimum wage. Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill approving the raise, which is set to phase in over 5 years. At the signing ceremony Murphy said, “It is a great day to make some history for New Jersey’s working families …We’ve talked long enough about putting New Jersey on a responsible path to $15 an hour minimum wage. Today we start our way on this path.” The state joins California, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia in raising the wage to $15 an hour.
Ninety five percent of unionized teachers in Oakland, California have voted to strike after contract negotiations stalled. The teachers, who had been paying close attention to the recent Los Angeles teachers strike, have been working since 2017 without a contract. They want higher wages, smaller class sizes, and more resources.