News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

The House of Representatives on Friday passed a major disaster relief bill approving $17 billion to states around the nation including California, Hawaii, Alaska, and states in the Midwest and South. The funding will address damage from major storms and hurricanes, wildfires, and more. Included in the bill is $600 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico’s residents impacted by Hurricane Maria – which President Donald Trump has opposed and repeatedly lied about. Trump also wanted $4.5 billion in emergency funding for is border wall. But Friday’s bill passed with 34 Republicans joining Democrats. The House passed another version of the same bill in January but the Senate did not take a vote on that bill. Additionally, the Pentagon approved a transfer of $1.5 billion from its Defense Budget to fund Trump’s border wall with Mexico. The funds are drawn from a number of projects including Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban. And, Trump on Thursday formally nominated Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to his permanent position. The former Boeing executive faces a contentious Senate confirmation hearing.

The House on Thursday also passed a bill to protect the Affordable Care Act from the Trump Administration. The bill prevents the federal government from issuing waivers to states that want to avoid the law. The Democrat-controlled House will vote on seven more bills related to President Obama’s signature healthcare law next week. The Trump administration has pledged to repeal Obamacare in its entirety and replace it with an as-yet-unknown law.

President Trump has made good on his promise to raise tariffs on Chinese imports as talks between trade representatives from China and the US failed to come to agreement. About $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will now see tariffs raised from 10% to 25%. Trump also took steps to potentially impose tariffs on all Chinese goods coming into the US. China responded saying it would be forced to take the, “necessary countermeasures,” but did not specify what those were. Speaking at the White House on Thursday Trump tried to justify the tariffs. Critics say that the cost of the tariffs will fall largely on Americans.

President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said he plans to travel to the Ukrainian capital Kiev shortly to meet with the newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. According to the New York Times, Giuliani will urge Zelensky, “to pursue inquiries that allies of the White House contend could yield new information about two matters of intense interest to Mr. Trump.” The issues are the origins of the 2016 Special Counsel investigation into Trump, and what role Joe Biden’s son played in a Ukrainian-owned gas company. The Times remarked, “Mr. Giuliani’s plans create the remarkable scene of a lawyer for the president of the United States pressing a foreign government to pursue investigations that Mr. Trump’s allies hope could help him in his re-election campaign. And it comes after Mr. Trump spent more than half of his term facing questions about whether his 2016 campaign conspired with a foreign power.”

Meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has planned a trip to Russia next week to meet with President Vladimir Putin. It will be the first time Pompeo travels there as State Secretary and among the issues on the agenda are US-Russia relations on Venezuela and Iran, as well as arms control, Russia’s battle in Ukraine, and nuclear-weapons related negotiations with North Korea. Apparently Pompeo and Putin also intend to discuss US election interference efforts originating from Russia. And President Trump on Thursday said that former State Secretary John Kerry should face prosecution for discussing details of the US-Iran nuclear deal with Iranian officials after he left office. On the same day Trump invited Iranian leaders to, “call me.” Iran responded saying, “there will be no negotiations with America.”

A new Reuters poll has found increased support among Americans for impeaching Trump. Forty five percent of Americans now want Trump impeached, which is a five point increase from a month ago. However half of all respondents said that the Congressional inquiries into Trump were interfering with the business of running the government. According to Reuters the poll, “did not make clear whether investigation-fatigued Americans wanted House of Representatives Democrats to pull back on their probes or press forward aggressively and just get impeachment over with.”

State lawmakers in Alabama postponed a vote on a controversial bill that would have banned almost all abortions and criminalized doctors who performed them. The state Senate moved to resume voting next Tuesday after a battle broke out over how far the ban should go. Anti-abortionists planned for the Alabama bill to be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court where they hope for an outcome that curtails women’s right to control their own bodies. Meanwhile in Georgia where Republican Governor Brian Kemp just signed a draconian abortion bill into law, four film production companies announced they would boycott the state until the law was overturned. Georgia has become a popular production destination for some film and television projects.

In immigration news, the Housing and Urban Development Department has announced that as part of its implementation of the Trump Administration’s attack on immigrants, it would be evicting 55,000 children in undocumented families from public housing. HUD Secretary Ben Carson announced the proposed rule on Friday saying that it is intended to, “make certain our scarce public resources help those who are legally entitled to it.” The law already prohibits undocumented immigrants from accessing subsidized housing, but does allow mixed-status families to occupy the housing. Under the leadership of Trump’s virulently anti-immigrant adviser Stephen Miller, that rule is being changed so that all household members are required to have legal status. This means that US citizen children of undocumented parents will likely be evicted. Also on immigration, news emerged that dozens of Border Patrol agents are being trained to conduct asylum interviews of those seeking refuge at the border as part of a pilot program. Critics say it is highly inappropriate for those in an immigration enforcement capacity to conduct such interviews.

And finally, whistleblower and activist Chelsea Manning has been released from jail after being held for more than 2 months for contempt of court after she refused to testify against Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. But Manning was subpoenaed again just as she was released, and could likely face more jail time.

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