Headlines: January 23, 2019
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The US Senate is due to vote on two competing bills to end the record breaking partial government shutdown. Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell plans a vote on his party’s bill that includes $5.7 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall and also puts in place new restrictions on asylum seekers. He also plans a vote on a House version of a bill that Democrats passed allowing the federal government to reopen temporarily while negotiations continue. Neither of the bills is expected to pass. In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will introduce more bills on Wednesday to reopen the government. Public opinion polls show that more Americans blame Trump for the on-going shutdown than Pelosi. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also stuck firm to the Democrats’ position.
Meanwhile, a new caravan of immigrants has arrived on the Mexico border from Central America. A type of “humanitarian visa” being made available under Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has apparently spurred more than 5,000 Central American refugees to wait by the Guatemala-Mexico border. The new visas would protect them from Mexican deportation and help them toward their journey northward to the US. There are still about 3,000 refugees mostly from Honduras in Tijuana on the US-Mexico border, awaiting the ability to apply for asylum into the US. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Lawyers and migration experts say the migrants’ chances of getting asylum in the U.S. are lower than ever.”
The weeklong Los Angeles teachers strike has ended. After intense discussions that went overnight, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers of Los Angeles announced an agreement on Tuesday. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl gave a joint press conference on Tuesday afternoon announcing an agreement after 7 days of teachers striking. Later in the afternoon a vote was held among union members who passed the agreement, officially ending the strike.
Democrats are under fire for muddying the waters on an effort to pass Medicare-for-all legislation. Lawmakers in the House where the Democrats hold a decisive majority, have introduced at least 8 bills on healthcare that critics are casting as “Medicare-for-some.” Among them are Senator Sherrod Brown who is considering a run for President and has introduced a bill allowing only retiring police and firefighters access to the Medicare system before they hit retirement age. Brown said, “It’s easy to say ‘Medicare for All’ and make a good speech, but see no action.” According to Politico, the bills, “range from modest Medicare reforms to more ambitious restructurings that would extend government-run care to millions of new patients — an array of options that fall short of campaign trail promises for full Medicare for All.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal has introduced the only truly Medicare-for-all bill – a version that Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has backed in the Senate. Senator Ed Merkley explained, “If we could make the leap straight to Medicare for All, I would love for us to do that…But it’s important to lay out a route about how we get to that vision. If you tell people the only choice they have is Medicare, that could produce a lot of folks being concerned about, ‘Wait a minute, I like my health care and you’re telling me I have to leave it.'” A political group named Protect Our Care, which is invested in strengthening Obamacare has been developing messaging for Democrats on the issue. Also deeply concerned about Medicare-for-All is the health insurance industry that sees an existential threat from a government-run system. Meanwhile there is greater public support for a fully government-run Medicare-for-All system than ever before. A new Kaiser poll found that 71% of Americans support guaranteed health insurance as a right for all.
President Trump is frustrated with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani after the former New York City mayor’s latest round of media interviews went awry. Giuliani appears to be trying to play the role of public relations for the President over the Special Counsel’s investigation. Instead he often implicates the President further by admitting Trump took guilty-sounding actions that contradict earlier denials. Associated Press is reporting that, “three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House,” explained that Trump believes Giuliani has, “changed the headlines,” for the worse. There is also a concern that Giuliani might be drunk during his evening interviews.
Trump has asked the US Supreme Court to rule quickly on a question of citizenship on the next Census. A US District judge last week ordered that plans to add the question to the survey be stopped given that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross apparently broke a number of federal rules in forcing the question on the survey. The Justice Department on Tuesday – instead of going to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals as expected – went straight to the Supreme Court saying there wouldn’t be enough time to get a ruling. Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote in his request, “The government must finalize the census questionnaire by the end of June 2019 to enable it to be printed on time… It is exceedingly unlikely that there is sufficient time for review in both the court of appeals and in this Court by that deadline.” President Trump championed adding a citizenship question to the US Census as part of his broader anti-immigrant agenda.
The World Economic Forum continues in Davos, Switzerland with the arrival of several heads of state. President Trump and his cabinet members, who attended last year’s meeting, are notably absent due to the government shutdown. Instead it is Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro, who embodies Trump’s spirit, who has dominated the gathering of business and world leaders at the summit. In addition to selling Brazil as a business-friendly nation, according to the New York Times, Bolsonaro also, “said Brazil would purge left-wing ideology from its politics and society, and he made no apologies for emphasizing economic growth, something his critics say will come at the cost of protecting Brazil’s environment.” “Our motto is ‘God above all things,'” Bolsonaro also said.
And finally, in Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself President of that nation. US Vice President Mike Pence has swiftly backed him and called the democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro, a, “dictator with no legitimate claim to power.” We’ll have more on that breaking story in the coming days.
Former US State Secretary John Kerry is attending the Davos gathering. On Tuesday Kerry was asked what he would have said to Trump had the US President attended. Kerry first hesitated and then just said one word: “Resign.” The Washington Post reported that, “The audience of mostly elite business, academic and government leaders from around the world initially laughed at Kerry’s comment, and then many clapped and cheered.”