Headlines: January 29, 2020
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President Donald Trump has launched an attack at member of his own party and one of his own former inner cabinet members, John Bolton. The former National Security Advisor who left the White House last year is being considered a likely witness in the Senate impeachment trial after leaks from a book manuscript by Bolton appeared to corroborate Trump’s wrongdoing. Bolton is an aggressive war hawk who had pushed for a conflict with Iran. The President justified Bolton’s departure by saying that had Bolton stayed, the U.S. “would be in World War Six by now.” It is not clear if Trump knows how many World Wars there have been. The White House has also formally threatened to stop Bolton’s book from being published. A copy of the manuscript had been sent to the White House’s National Security Council’s Records Management Division for clearance. Bolton’s lawyers are accusing that office of leaking the manuscript.
Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has apparently said behind closed doors that he lacks the votes to block witness testimonies. With a slim majority in the Senate, just four Republicans would have to join all Democrats in voting to bring forward witnesses. A vote on witness testimonies is likely to be set for this Friday. If the vote passes, the Senate will have to then vote on each individual witness. On Tuesday Trump’s impeachment defense team ended its opening arguments with Attorney Jay Sekulow making the claim that the leak of Bolton’s manuscript was inadmissible. Now that the opening arguments on both sides have wrapped up the historic impeachment trial enters a new phase where Senators have the opportunity to write down questions for House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers which will then be read by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. There are 16 hours over two days that have been set aside for this part of the process.
While Republicans are bending over backward to support Trump, some are angry at what they see is the administration’s denial of a Congressional role in military decision making. Emerging from a closed-door State Department briefing on Iran on Tuesday, Senator Rand Paul said, “The position of this administration, and probably most of the recent administrations, is they don’t care what Congress thinks, and they don’t believe they need any authorization for any war ever.” Trump authorized a significant air strike in early January that killed a top Iranian general while he was in Iraq, provoking a near-war. There are currently several bills before Congress that address the authority to wage wars.
In other news Trump signed the USMCA, a trade deal that will replace the decades-old North America Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA, that was passed with strong support from House Democrats. In a ceremony that included about 400 guests, Trump pointedly refused to invite any Democrats that had voted for the deal. Giving a speech surrounded by a number of hard-hat-wearing workers, Trump lauded his achievement. According to Reuters, “A wide array of business groups welcomed the agreement, which must still be ratified by Canada’s parliament before it can take effect. Mexico has already approved the deal.”
A decades-old law that was designed to prevent banks from discriminating against low-income borrowers is getting a Trump-makeover. The Community Reinvestment Act, according to Associated Press, “has over the past four decades spurred hundreds of billions of dollars in lending to low- and middle-income communities.” But now the Trump administration is proposing to rewrite the rules allowing banks to bypass the people they are supposed to be serving by broadening the definition of what constitutes a needy community.
A draft bill proposed by House Democrats to compete with the Green New Deal has received the ire of climate activists. The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday released a proposal for the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation or (CLEAN) Future Act. The Act is a centrist effort to compete with the Green New Deal but a spokesperson with Food and Water Watch said, “Simply put, this legislation is a ‘green new dud,’ not a Green New Deal.”
The Washington Post reported the disturbing story of an inmate in an Oklahoma jail who is seen on video surveillance cameras repeatedly begging for medical help from jail staff. The staffers are seen mocking 26-year old Terral Ellis who had turned himself in over an outstanding warrant for a DUI. Mr. Ellis was dead from pneumonia-related septic shock soon after. The incident took place in 2015 but the footage of Ellis’s last hours was just made public as part of a lawsuit over his death. According to the Post the videos, “show how jail staff repeatedly mocked Ellis and refused him adequate medical treatment.” The attorney in the case, Dan Smolen said, “I want people to understand this is happening, every day, all day long, in jails across the United States. I think it has just been captured [here] in a really awful way.”
Also related to the Washington Post, the paper on Tuesday rescinded its suspension of one of its reporters after clearing her of wrongdoing over a social media post related to Kobe Bryant’s 2003 rape case. Felicia Sonmez tweeted a 2016 Daily Beast article outlining a 19-year old woman’s account of her violent rape by the basketball star. Mr. Bryant had perished hours before the tweet in a helicopter accident in Los Angeles. After Sonmez received multiple death threats and angry comments, her employer decided to punish her with paid administrative leave and publicly admonished her saying, “her tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” Fellow staffers rallied to her defense and the paper reversed it actions but issued no apology. Sonmez is a survivor of sexual assault.
The trial against Harvey Weinstein is continuing this week with more accusers coming forward to details their assaults and rapes at his hand. Among the accusers who spoke in court this week are actor Dawn Dunning and production assistant Mimi Haleyi. Weinstein, who has shown up to court smiling and using a walker to assist him, has maintained through his lawyers that the many accusations he faces are all describing consensual sexual relations.
And finally the European Parliament on Wednesday ended the long-running Brexit saga by voting overwhelmingly for the plan put forward by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. MPs voted 621 to 49 even as some broke down in tears. AP explained that, “After Britain’s departure on Friday, the U.K. will remain within the EU’s economic arrangements until the end of the year though it won’t have a say in policy.” And, “Now, negotiations move on how to cooperate in the future. Britain is seeking to thrash out a comprehensive trade deal within 11 months.”