Headlines: May 24, 2019
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A single House Republican from Texas has stalled what was expected to be the near-certain passage of a long-awaited disaster-funding bill. Representative Chip Roy raised an objection to the $19 billion aid package that the Senate passed on Thursday evening with a vote of 85 to 8 and that even President Donald Trump said he would sign. Because the Senate vote came after most House members had left Washington DC ahead of the long weekend, House leaders had hoped on Friday morning to pass the bill by a procedure called “unanimous consent.” Because even a single objection can derail a vote in such a procedure, Rep. Chip’s opposition postponed the disaster-funding bill to June. The Washington Post explained that, “Roy’s objection to the disaster aid bill further delays legislation that would send aid to victims of Western wildfires, Midwestern flooding and hurricanes that hit the Southeast and Puerto Rico, as well as to other disaster-affected areas across the country.” What was remarkable about the bill was that Trump had unexpectedly signaled approval of a bill that did not include his border wall funding. The House is expected to have another unanimous consent vote next Tuesday.
President Trump, clearly spooked by Nancy Pelosi’s comments about him engaging in a cover up, decided to retweet a video compiled by Fox News of the House Speaker stumbling over her words. The heavily edited video was followed by a remarkably ageist and sexist commentator claiming that Speaker Pelosi was taking on too much and perhaps needed to pull back on her work. He made no mention of the President’s inarticulate oration or limited vocabulary. Meanwhile a second video of the House Speaker at an event this past Wednesday has been making the rounds of social media, digitally altered to make it appear as though her words were slurring and that she might have been inebriated. Right-leaning social media groups have pushed that video, which millions have already watched and likely not realized it was altered. Social media companies Facebook and Twitter have announced that they will not take down copies of the manipulated video.
In other news, President Trump on Thursday granted extraordinary powers to Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the Special Counsel inquiry into his links to Russia in the 2016 election. The New York Times explained that, “Mr. Trump ordered the C.I.A. and the country’s 15 other intelligence agencies to cooperate with the review and granted Mr. Barr the authority to unilaterally declassify their documents,” giving Barr, “immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.” Meanwhile Democrats in the Senate are asking their House colleagues to back off on impeachment discussions. California Senate Dianne Feinstein in particular said, “I don’t think we should go there now…I was here for the Clinton impeachment, and after it was over I wished it never had happened. I think we ought to be very, very cautious with that kind of thing.”
The Washington Post on Friday published an exclusive report on how Trump has attempted to steer federal government contracts to a firm headed by a prominent Republican donor. Tommy Fisher, who is a frequent guest on the President’s favorite media channel, Fox News, heads Fisher Industries, a company that Trump has reportedly aggressively pushed for contract awards especially around border wall construction. The Post, whose report was based on four sources at the White House, said, “The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials.” Additionally, “Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has joined in the campaign for Fisher Industries.” And The Hill on Friday analyzed FEC filings to conclude that, “Republican candidates and campaign committees have spent more than $4 million at hotel, golf and vineyard properties that bear President Trump’s name since he was inaugurated in 2017.”
The Justice Department has announced 17 new charges against Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief, Julian Assange related to the Espionage Act, in a move that has alarmed press freedom advocates. The indictments do not focus on the role of Wikileaks in making public internal Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the 2016 election, arguably helping Trump win. Rather they are focused on the earlier role that Wikileaks played in the release of internal war logs from Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. President Barack Obama’s administration had considered using the Espionage Act to indict Assange but ultimately decided not to. Assange is currently in UK jail fighting extradition to the US.
Former filmmaker Harvey Weinstein has reached a $44 million settlement in a number of lawsuits filed by women who accused him of rape and sexual assault. The charges against Weinstein came from well known Hollywood actresses who said he assaulted them, a revelation that helped to publicize the #MeToo movement. The settlement sum in the cases of two women who have accused him of sexual violence is less than half the amount that had been discussed earlier. Weinstein also separately faces charges of sexual harassment from more than 80 women.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have just filed a federal lawsuit over the constitutionality of Alabama’s newly passed sweeping abortion ban. Considered the most extreme anti-abortion law in the nation, Alabama has drawn attention to the state-by-state plan enacted by anti-abortionists to chip away at women’s right to control their bodies. The lawsuit says, “By criminalizing the performance of an abortion (or attempted performance of an abortion) at all points in pregnancy, H.B. 314 directly conflicts with Roe and more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent affirming its central holding.” Anti-abortionists have planned for the Alabama law to go all the way to the Supreme Court where they hope conservative justices will side with them in banning all abortions. Meanwhile Los Angeles County just banned all its employees from traveling to Alabama for a year in protest of the abortion ban.
In Britain, Theresa May has just resigned from her party’s leadership and expects to step down from her post as Prime Minister, admitting failure to implement a Brexit plan. In a sober announcement on Friday morning, she announced her resignation, and admitted defeat over Brexit. She expects her party to pick a new leader by June, and turn over the reins of the Prime Minister sometime in July. And finally voting began in European Union elections on Thursday. More than 370 million people will be voting in elections that are only eclipsed by India’s. There are projections that center-right and nationalist forces will gain seats in the new EU, as will left parties.