Headlines: March 26, 2019
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UPDATED: Democratic lawmakers are pushing for the Justice Department to release the entire Special Counsel’s report on 2016 election wrongdoing to the public as early as next week. The chairs of six House committees sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr demanding that he release the entire report by April 2nd. The House already voted to release the report. But in the Senate, where Republicans still hold a majority, Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called instead for an investigation into who started the probe against Trump in the first place. On Tuesday morning White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that, “The Mueller investigation is the gold standard,” which is exactly the opposite of what Trump cabinet members and the President himself had been saying for more than a year. Later in an interview on PBS NewsHour Conway continued to praise the Special Counsel’s work.
In other news, Empire star Jussie Smollett, who had been at the center of a controversy around allegations that he faked a hate crime against himself has been exonerated. Smollett’s attorneys announced on Tuesday morning in Chicago that Cook County prosecutors have dropped all charges against the actor in a story that captured headlines for weeks. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson had accused Smollett of exploiting the pain of racism to promote his career. Smollett’s attorney Patricia Brown Holmes lashed out at Chicago police saying, “We have nothing to say to the police department, except to investigate charges and not try their cases in the press, but to allow matters to be investigated, allow the state to investigate and to bring charges, and not to jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel slammed prosecutors for dropping all charges. Actor Jussie Smollett spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning after all charges against him were dropped.
The state of Oklahoma has reached a massive $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharmaceuticals and the Sackler family which owns the company, over its role in the opioid crisis. State prosecutors have been pursuing lawsuits against Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries over their role in the thousands of deaths that have resulted from opioid use in Oklahoma. The settlement with Purdue will apparently fund an initiative at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa to study the treatment of opioid addiction and pain management. Lawsuits against the other two companies will continue separately. Purdue still faces lawsuits from other states and the federal government and is considering possibly filing for bankruptcy.
The state of Utah has just passed a wide-ranging law to ban most abortions after 18 weeks of gestation, making it one of the harshest anti-abortion law in the nation. Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed the bill into law late Monday despite protests from the ACLU of Utah that it was unconstitutional. The new law, which will face legal opposition before it goes into effect in May, is one of several anti-abortion laws in the state that already makes it difficult for women to have control over their own bodies. Karrie Galloway, President of Planned Parenthood of Utah said, “This 18-week ban is clearly unconstitutional and part of a broader agenda to ban abortion one law at a time.” Other states have passed similar laws as part of a nationwide effort by anti-abortion activists to push for legal challenges to go to the Supreme Court where they hope for an overturning of the Roe Vs. Wade decision.
Meanwhile the Justice Department has just announced that it will seek to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature healthcare bill that Republicans have waged war against for years. In a court filing on Monday in a case pending at the Federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans, DOJ attorneys asserted that a lower court ruling in Texas last December invalidating the entire law should be upheld. According the Washington Post, “If the Justice Department’s position prevails, it would potentially eliminate health care for millions of people and cause disruption across the U.S. health-care system — from removing no-charge preventive services for older Americans on Medicare to voiding the expansion of Medicaid in most states.”
At an event on Monday evening President Obama reportedly made comments to an audience that some characterized as a gentle warning to freshmen Democratic lawmakers about the price-tags of programs like Medicare-for-all, and the Green New Deal. One source who attended the event told the Washington Post, “He said we [as Democrats] shouldn’t be afraid of big, bold ideas — but also need to think in the nitty-gritty about how those big, bold ideas will work and how you pay for them.”
The House on Tuesday attempted to override President Trump’s veto of their resolution against his national emergency declaration to fund a border wall. Democrats apparently strategized to gain Republican votes on the basis of where the money for Trump’s border wall will come from, rather than striking fear over precedent-setting for future Presidents. But the vote came in at only 248 to 181– far short of the 2/3rds needed to override Trump’s veto. The vote took place just a day after the Pentagon announced that it transferred $1 billion in funds to the Army Corps of Engineers to build nearly 60 miles of barriers along the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico. The Pentagon used Trump’s emergency declaration as justification for the transfer.
The Senate plans to vote on the Green New Deal resolution on Tuesday in a move that Republican leaders are hoping will divide Democrats. The vote will take place before there has been any discussion or debate on the matter. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell explained that his plan to hold the vote is so that Americans will, “see which of their senators can do the common-sense thing and vote ‘no’ on this destructive socialist daydream.” He also called the Green New Deal, “radical left-wing ideology,” and, “self-inflicted economic ruin that would take a sledgehammer to America’s middle class.” Polls have shown that large majorities of Americans from both sides of the political spectrum support the idea of a Green New Deal. Democrats have slammed McConnell’s tactic and plan to simply vote “present.” The resolution is expected to fail.
And finally the Supreme Court on Tuesday plans to take on the issue of extreme partisan gerrymandering. It will be the second time the court has taken on such a case. The court’s newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh, actively participated during questioning on Tuesday morning, saying, “Extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy…I’m not going to dispute that.” However he indicated that some recent attempts by states to remedy the practice may render the court’s action unnecessary.