Headlines: February 7, 2019
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The crisis in Virginia has deepened over the last 24 hours as all top three of the highest ranking officials have found themselves at the center of racial and sexual wrong doing. After Governor Ralph Northam was found to have been associated with a black-face and KKK robe-wearing photo from his medical college yearbook, his Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was linked to reports of sexual assault. On Wednesday a California woman came forward detailing her assault at his hands. The New York Times describes her as, “Dr. Vanessa C. Tyson, an associate professor of politics and expert in black history at Scripps College in California. She has also spent years advocating for victims of sexual assault and has spoken openly about being molested by her father when she was a child.” Dr. Tyson described a gut-wrenching experience of being forced into oral sex when she met Mr. Fairfax at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.
Just before Tyson’s account became public, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring, who would have been third in line for the Governorship after Northam and Fairfax, admitted that he had once dressed in blackface in college. Herring had been among those calling on Northam to resign. The Washington Post described the chaos on Wednesday saying, “The drama pervaded the state capital on one of the busiest days of the General Assembly, with emotional meetings behind closed doors and at least one lawmaker in tears. Two of the central players hid from public view, while the third, Fairfax, had no choice but to stand for hours on the dais of the Senate because of his job responsibilities. When they ended, he slipped away.”
Many are looking to the state’s influential Legislative Black Caucus for a response. The group had called on Northam to resign but have been silent since the new revelations about Fairfax and Herring. The group’s chairman said simply on Wednesday, “we’ve got a lot to digest.”
In other news, the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday voted to send a number of witness transcripts from its own investigation into Russia-related election wrongdoing to the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The committee, which is now headed by Democrat Adam Schiff of California, hopes Mr. Mueller will be able to prosecute instances of perjury among some of President Donald Trump’s current and former colleagues that have come under the investigation’s crosshairs. In January the Special Counsel’s team charged Trump’s long-time associate Roger Stone with lying to the House Intelligence Committee. The Democrats on that committee have long maintained that witnesses they interviewed separately from Mueller may have lied to them. Now that Democrats are in charge of the committee, they are able to test that theory.
Meanwhile the House Intelligence Committee launched a new probe into Trump’s foreign business deals to determine if the President’s decisions on Russia might have been influenced by his desire for personal financial gain. Trump took great umbrage at the announcement, especially targeting the committee chairperson, Adam Schiff, whom he has attacked in the past.
During his State of the Union address on Tuesday night Trump had laid out an ultimatum to Congress denouncing the, “ridiculous partisan investigations,” and asserting that, “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.” But Democrats appear to be having none of it and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot back the next day saying, “Presidents should not bring threats to the floor of the House…It’s not investigation; it’s oversight. It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent in our duties.” On Thursday morning Trump continued his tantrums on Twittercomplaining about, “unlimited Presidential harassment.”
But there has been no other President like Trump in US history. On Wednesday new documents obtained from the Trump hotel in Washington DC revealed that executives from the telecomm company T-Mobile reserved more than 50 nights there after the company sought approval for its merger with Sprint. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal – both Democrats – are examining whether T-Mobile executives were hoping to influence the Trump administration to approve the merger by currying favor with the President and his hotel.
Meanwhile Congress went about its business on Wednesday attempting to put together a deal on border security ahead of the looming February 15th deadline when a second government shutdown could take place if a federal spending bill is not passed and signed into law. According to the Washington Post, “A bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers traded offers behind the scenes, with Democrats saying money for border barriers was on the table and Republicans acknowledging they won’t get Trump the $5.7 billion he has sought for his wall.” Neither Democrats nor Republicans know if Trump will actually sign anything they agree on.
On Wednesday the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, once formed as an oversight agency to actually protect consumers, has proposed a weakening of rules for the predatory payday lending industry. The existing rules, which were set to take effect this August, would have forced lenders to check whether borrowers could afford the loans they took before issuing them. The industry heavily lobbied against the rules, and now have found a friend in the Trump administration. The CFPB head Kathy Kraninger plans to hold hearings on its proposal to roll back the rules and take public comments before making a decision.
The President’s daughter Ivanka Trump on Wednesday announced her new pet project: the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative. The project will involve several government agencies including the State Department and the National Security Council. The initiative seeks to promote programs for financial support and legal and job training for women worldwide. The President had lauded his daughter’s project on Tuesday night during his State of the Union address and will officially launch it on Thursday with his signature. Ms. Trump told Associated Press, “We think women are arguably the most under-tapped resource in the developing world for accelerating economic growth and prosperity.” Among her consultants for the project is former State Secretary Henry Kissinger – long considered a war criminal by historians.
A senior level US envoy has arrived in North Korea this week to prepare for the second US-North Korea summit set to take place in Vietnam at the end of the month. Stephen Biegun is in Pyongyang to begin sorting out details for an agreement with the US on curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Mr. Beigun said in a speech last week that Trump wants, “significant and verifiable progress on denuclearization, actions that are bold and real.” But the two sides have been unable to make progress on what that actually means.
In climate news, five leading institutions worldwide, including NASA, the NOAA, and the UK’s Hadley Center, have jointly concluded that the year 2018 was the fifth straight year of warming temperatures. The years 2014 to 2018 have been the five warmest years in recorded history. Additionally NASA has found that 18 of the 19 warmest years on record were after the year 2000. In other words the planet is undeniably warming. There can be no more greater evidence of it than what the agencies found. On Thursday morning, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey formally introduced a resolution on the Green New Deal to move toward a green economy through a massive jobs program. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw cold water on it saying in an interview with Politico on Wednesday, “It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive. The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”
And finally the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted along strict party lines to confirm William Barr to be the next Attorney General of the United States. Among the 10 committee Democrats who voted against advancing his nomination to the full Senate for a vote was Senator Richard Blumenthal who is concerned that Barr will hide the results of the Mueller investigation from the public. “They paid for it,” said Blumenthal. “They deserve to see everything that’s in it.”