Headlines: November 15, 2018
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At least 56 are confirmed dead in California’s Camp Fire that wiped out towns in Butte County. There are still about 130 people missing and National Guards troops are leading the search teams to find remains and help identify them. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke toured the destroyed town of Paradise along with California Gov. Jerry Brown. Zinke, who is part of President Donald Trump’s group of cabinet members denying the existence of human-caused climate change said, “Now is not the time to point fingers. There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening.” The tens of thousands of evacuees that likely have no homes left to go back to have camped out next to a Walmart Parking lot in Chico. Some of them spoke with reporters from the Associated Press.
The California Utilities Company Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) declared on Wednesday that it may owe billions of dollars in liabilities from wildfire damage throughout the state and that its insurance would not cover those liabilities. According to the New York Times, “State officials have determined that electrical equipment owned by PG&E, including power lines and poles, was responsible for at least 17 of 21 major fires in Northern California last fall.” According to Citigroup, the damages from those fires could total $15 billion and that if the Camp Fire was found to be the fault of a PG&E faulty line, it could add another $15 billion in damages. State utilities customers would either see massive price increases to pay for those damages, or the state would have to bail out the company. The company, whose stock value plummeted by 20% this week, has been investigated for poor management of its power lines.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the US border with Mexico on Thursday where thousands of troops have been deployed on Trump’s order as a caravan of tired refugees begins arriving. Mattis and Nielsen addressed some of the troops.
In other news, more election races that were too close to call are being resolved and many are going the way of Democrats as mail-in and provisional ballots are counted. In California at least, the predicted “Blue Wave“ has materialized with the declaration of victory by Democrat Katie Porter over Republican incumbent Mimi Walters. According to USA Today, “At least four incumbent Republican House members were swept away in California by last week’s election and two more are still at risk as votes continue to be counted.” Another race between Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim is looking to be a possible win for the Democrat at Ms. Kim’s lead has now narrowed to only 711 votes. Democrats control at least 43 out of California’s 53 House seats.
Republicans have elected a California Representative – Kevin McCarthy – as the new House GOP leader, replacing the retiring Paul Ryan in the New Year. McCarthy will be the House Minority leader and won by a vote of 159-43. In the Senate Leadership, both incumbents, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer were reelected by their respective parties.
The Justice Department has announced that Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting Attorney General is legal. The DOJ is defending Trump’s decision against multiple accusations of constitutional violations. According to Reuters, “A legal opinion sent to the White House by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that Whitaker’s appointment as the chief U.S. law enforcement official was allowed under a 1998 law called the Federal Vacancies Reform Act even though he was not a Senate-confirmed official.” Whitaker is a prominent critic of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and he now oversees it – which appears to be Trump’s goal.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake is the only GOP Senator willing to protect the Special Counsel from political attacks. Flake introduced a bill called the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act,” to protect the probe but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell said, “I don’t think any legislation is necessary.” But Flake then threatened to block any new judicial confirmations until McConnell takes up the vote.
In the latest on the Florida recount, a judge has given voters whose ballots were disqualified for sloppy signatures, until this Saturday to salvage their votes. According to the Washington Post, “The decision by Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee came just hours ahead of the Thursday afternoon deadline for elections officials to complete a machine recount. It is particularly notable in the too-close-to-call Senate race, in which Gov. Rick Scott (R) leads Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by fewer than 13,000 votes.” Meanwhile Scott has finally recused himself from certifying the results of his own election. Mr. Nelson had accused Scott of, “using his power as governor to try to undermine the voting process.”
Attorney Michael Avenatti, who represents adult film actress Stormy Daniels, was arrested in Los Angeles on Wednesday on charges of domestic violence. The surprise felony charge is shrouded in secrecy, as the only detail that the Los Angeles Police Department has released is that the victim in the case apparently has visible injuries. Avenatti was released on $50,000 bail and vehemently denies the charges saying he had, “never struck a woman,” and that the charges were, “completely bogus,” “fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation.”
And in international news, the Brexit deal that Prime Minister Theresa May presented to her cabinet this week, outlining the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, has run into deep trouble. Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, and Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, both resigned after they said they could not support the deal. Some of May’s critics have demanded she return to Brussels to negotiate a better deal but EU representatives warned that negotiators have, “exhausted the margin of maneuver.”