Headlines: January 31, 2020
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US Senators spent Friday debating over the presentation of witness testimonies for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. After some moderate GOP Senators said earlier this week that they would vote for witness testimonies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s directive to his party members to vote down witnesses appears to have largely worked and the Senate may even vote on acquitting the President before the weekend.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander issued an astonishing statement to justify his vote against witnesses, saying he already had enough evidence of the President’s wrongdoing on Ukraine. But in Alexander’s eyes, the wrongdoing was simply “inappropriate,” and did not rise to the level of removal from office. He said in his statement, “There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.” And, “There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.” Senator Alexander then labeled those actions, “inappropriate,” and concluded, “the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.” The “yes-he-did-it-and-so-what” sentiment echoes the argument of several of Trump’s defenders. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney were the only GOP Senators saying they would vote for witnesses to testify as of Friday morning.
Meanwhile Trump traveled to Des Moines, Iowa for another of his signature political rallies on Thursday night. He spent much of his 1-hour plus speech declaring the impeachment trial all-but-over and attacking former Vice President Joe Biden. Writing in The Nation magazine, veteran journalist John Nichols wrote, “The president forgot to mobilize Republican caucus voters and instead took the opportunity to rip into the Democratic presidential candidates.” Trump also touted his recent trade deals as a victory for Iowans, many of whom have been hurting from retaliatory tariffs. On Monday Iowan voters will attend the Democratic and Republican caucuses to pick a winner of their state’s primary races.
Associated Press on Friday published an investigative report into Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow who has been a prominent member of the impeachment defense team. Sekulow, according to AP, “is being paid for his legal work through a rented $80-a-month mailbox a block away from the White House.” The backdrop for this is that, “Charity watchdogs for years have raised concerns about the blurred lines between for-profit businesses tied to Sekulow and the complex web of non-profit entities he and his family control.” Additionally, AP reviewed financial records and concluded that, “more than $65 million in charitable funds were paid to Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his nephew and corporations they own.”
Senators are investigating another potential act of corruption associated with the Trump administration. A whistleblower from the Internal Revenue Service is apparently alleging improper interference in audits of Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. The whistleblower, who is a career employee of the IRS, reached out to the top two Republican and Democratic Senators on the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden. The issue was first raised by House Representative Richard Neal who heads the House Ways and Means Committee and has been leading the fight to obtain Trump’s tax records.
In other news, an interaction between an ER Doctor and Vice President Pence over the administration’s announced cuts to Medicaid has gone viral. The doctor, who says his low-income patients in Michigan rely on the life-saving care that Medicaid grants provide, asked Pence why his administration wants to make cuts. Pence claimed he did not know about the widely announced cuts and struggled to justify the announced cuts to the Medicaid program.
State Secretary Mike Pompeo was in London this week as the UK finalized its divorce from the European Union. He was there to ostensibly discuss a US trade deal, but while there he strongly criticized the Chinese government. Calling China’s ruling Communist Party, “the central threat of our times,” Pompeo’s words were the most scathing criticism that the Trump administration has leveled at the country. On Friday Pompeo traveled to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky and assure him that the US unwaveringly supports his government against Russian aggression. Among the pressure points that Trump used to push for Ukraine to investigate Biden was denying Zelensky a meeting at the Oval Office. During his visit this week Pompeo said, “President Zelensky will be welcome to come to Washington when we have the opportunity to do good things for the American people and the Ukrainian people.” But he did not specify a date.
The new strain of coronavirus dubbed 2019-nCoV, continues to spread around the world with more than 200 fatalities so far, almost all inside China where the virus is thought to have originated. After about 200 US citizens were evacuated from the city of Wuhan, the US has now decided to quarantine them for 2 weeks as a precaution. The Trump administration has also issued a “level-4” travel advisory for China. The Chinese government has issued a travel ban for people from Wuhan, a major metropolis. The government now has to meet the challenge of feeding the 50 million people it has essentially put on lock-down. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared the coronavirus a “global emergency” and WHO officials are now worried about the spread of the virus to Africa where they fear it could overwhelm healthcare systems. And finally Australia’s capital Canberra, has declared a state of emergency as heat-fueled wildfires head directly toward it. People living on the outskirts of the region are being prepared for possible evacuation. According to AP, “The fire is burning at emergency level — the highest on a three-tier scale of danger — and embers have created dangerous spot fires nearby.” Australia has been plagued by record-breaking summer temperatures consistent with global warming, which are fueling devastating wildfires across the continent.