Headlines: January 3, 2019
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Thursday marks the first official day of the new Congress with Democrats taking majority control of the House of Representatives. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a photo to her Instagram account of herself posing with 5 other newly seated female members of Congress, all of whom are women of color, and all of whom broke election records. Ocasio-Cortez herself is the youngest woman to be elected to Congress. Ayanna Pressley became Massachusetts’ first black representative, while Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia are Texas’ first Latina representatives. Ilhan Omar becomes the nation’s first Hijab-wearing member of Congress, as well as the first Somali American, and one of the two first Muslim American women. And Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids become the nation’s first two indigenous women in Congress. Davids also becomes Kansas’ first openly LGBTQ representative. The five women are all Democrats.
Meanwhile Thursday also marks California Representative Nancy Pelosi’s first day as House Speaker for the 2019 Congress. In an interview on NBC’s Today Show Pelosi was asked whether she thought a sitting President could be indicted in spite of some legal opinions at the Justice Department saying otherwise.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the White House to discuss the on-going partial government shutdown which is now entering its 13th day. After the meeting both Trump and the Democrats stuck to their positions on a federal spending bill. Trump wants Democrats to pass a bill with $5 billion set aside for a border wall with Mexico while Pelosi and Schumer have held firm against such an appropriation. After the meeting Trump spoke with reporters at the White House. Schumer and Pelosi also spoke with reporters outside the White House on Wednesday after meeting with President Trump.
Despite Pelosi’s vow to stop Congress from being a “rubber stamp“ for the President, she and other establishment leaders have backed a set of rules for funding new programs call Pay-as-you-go, or Pay-go. Those rules, championed by Republicans, require that any new spending be accompanied by matching cuts or revenue increases. But progressive Democrats like Ro Khanna and the newly seated Ocasio-Cortez have vowed to vote against Pay-go and its austerity approach. Ocasio-Cortez explained in a tweet, “PAYGO isn’t only bad economics, … it’s also a dark political maneuver designed to hamstring progress on healthcare+other leg[islation].”
Republicans are worried about President Trump’s chances of reelection in 2020 – this despite Trump’s assurances that he is, “the most popular president in the history of the Republican Party.” The recent op-ed by former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney issuing a scathing critique of Trump has opened the possibility that Trump may face an intra-party challenge for the 2020 nomination. On Wednesday Trump responded to Romney’s opinion.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren became one of the first Democrats to openly explore running for President. On Wednesday she hired several staffers in the key electoral state of Iowa. According to AP she, “hired Brendan Summers, who managed the 2016 Iowa caucus campaign for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Emily Parcell, whose past campaign roles include political director for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 Iowa caucus campaign.”
Meanwhile at the US border with Mexico in Tijuana, Border Patrol agents fired tear gas into a crowd of migrants on New Year’s Day as they attempted to enter the US. The group of about 150 included children and many refugees who have been waiting for many weeks to seek asylum into the US. According to Associated Press, “Several migrants tried to climb the metal wall, prompting agents to fire the first volley of tear gas. When migrants approached the wall again, authorities fired a second round and then a third. The migrants fled, screaming, crying and coughing. One mother was hysterical after briefly losing her children in the thick smoke and darkness.” It was at least the second time since November that Border Patrol agents fired tear gas into migrants.
Meanwhile a new report has found the Trump administration is denying asylum requests from young people saying they are too old. A program since 1990 has allowed people under the age of 21 who have been abused to seek asylum. Now, those between 18 and 21 are being denied on the basis of age.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced gleefully on Wednesday that Congress had failed to use the Congressional Review Act to restore Net Neutrality after he led the FCC’s vote against it. He released a statement saying, “I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed Internet regulation. They did the right thing—especially considering the positive results for American consumers since the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.” But the Washington Post asserted that the battle for Net Neutrality is far from over and that several major lawsuits against the FCC’s decision are wending their way through courts.
Netflix on Wednesday was revealed to have removed one of the episodes of a show it produces from reaching viewers in Saudi Arabia. The new show hosted by Indian American comedian Hasan Minhaj called Patriot Act, includes an episode in its first season that is entirely focused on the repressive Saudi government and its recent hand in the murder of a dissident journalist. Netflix responded to criticism of its actions with a statement saying, “We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal demand from the government — and to comply with local law.” Minhaj responded on Twitter saying, “Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube.” He urged people to donate to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen where Saudi Arabia has fought a devastating war.
Brazil’s new right wing President Jair Bolsonaro has begun his new first term. Just hours after taking office, he took a major step undermining the rights of indigenous Brazilians – a move that his critics feared and warned against. According to the New York Times, “In one of a handful of measures that stand to hurt historically marginalized communities, the incoming government on Tuesday transferred responsibility for certifying indigenous territories as protected lands to the ministry of agriculture. The ministry has traditionally championed the interests of industries that want greater access to protected lands.”