Headlines: November 18, 2019
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President Donald Trump says he plans to “strongly consider” testifying in the House impeachment inquiry against him – but only in writing. In a tweet the President said, “Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” He was responding to a suggestion that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation over the weekend. Pelosi said, “If he has information that is exculpatory, that means ex, taking away, culpable, blame, then we look forward to seeing it.” She added that he, “could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants.”
Testimonies from witnesses in the impeachment inquiry continued with Vice President Mike Pence’s aide Jennifer Williams denouncing Trump’s conduct with Ukraine’s President as “unusual,” and “inappropriate.” Williams served as Pence’s special advisor for Russia and Europe and was the on the infamous July 25th phone call between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky. She said to House committees that the phone call, “shed some light on possible other motivations” that the President may have had to hold back US military aid from Ukraine. Trump predictably denounced her as a “never Trumper,” and urged her to read the transcript of an earlier call to Zelensky where Trump did not pressure him for political favors. Another deposition from former National Security Council member Tim Morrison over the weekend shed greater light on the matter. According to CNN, “Morrison testified that he had heard from Sondland that US aid to Ukraine was conditioned on the country announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.” Republican Mike Turner who sits on the committees conducting the impeachment inquiry and who was in the room when Morrison testified, said in an interview that he found the information, “alarming.” Turner added, “As I’ve said from the beginning, I think this is not OK. The President of the United States shouldn’t even in the original phone call be on the phone with the president of another country and raise his political opponent.” Coming this week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are eight more witnesses being interviewed for a second week of public hearings.
A shooting in Duncan, Oklahoma, at a Walmart store parking lot has claimed the lives of three people, two men and one woman. The incident comes just a day after four people were killed and six injured at a house party in Fresno, California. It is not yet known who fired shots at a backyard sports-watching party where about 35 people who were family and friends had gathered. A number of states including California have adopted so-called “red flag” laws enabling law enforcement to confiscate guns if a gun owner raises suspicion of committing crimes. But in Seattle, Washington, police took away the guns of a man who was heavily armed and making threats on social media about mass shootings. A judge ordered police to return the man’s weapons after he claimed he had only been joking.
In Louisiana, Republicans lost yet another gubernatorial race, signaling trouble for the conservative party in what have traditionally been red states. Trump-backed candidate Eddie Rispone lost to incumbent Democrat John Bel Edwards in a runoff race even though the votes received cumulatively by all first-round Republican candidates should have been enough to beat Edwards. Trump has yet to comment on the stinging loss that comes just days after Republicans lost the Kentucky governor’s seat to a Democrat.
In news from the Democratic Party, former President Barack Obama is in the news for claiming that leftists are trying to “tear down the system” as they push his party to abandon centrist positions. Obama spoke at a fundraiser on Friday and was presumably referring to candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. His words have prompted a backlash on social media citing positions of changemakers like Harriet Tubman or suffragettes who would be considered #TooFarLeft by today’s establishment Democratic Party standards. Meanwhile the top two centrists in the Presidential race are in the news. Former Vice President Joe Biden is facing strong criticism for being out of touch by calling marijuana “a gateway drug,” and saying he would be reluctant to legalize it on a federal level. And, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is caught in a controversy over black support for his candidacy. Buttigieg’s campaign tried to convince hundreds of black South Carolinians to support his so-called “Douglass Plan” for criminal justice reform and racial justice and claimed that 400 black leaders had endorsed his plan and his candidacy. Except that The Intercept found that was not true. Senator Elizabeth Warren is also under fire for not committing to pushing a Medicare-for-All plan early into her Presidential tenure. She has claimed she would offer a version of the plan for people to buy into and eventually transition to a single payer plan. Bernie Sanders shot back saying he would unveil the Medicare-for-All bill during his first week in office. On Saturday at a gathering of the California Young Democrats, Sanders won an overwhelming endorsement as 67% picked him as their leading candidate – well over twice what any other candidate received.
In other news, a group of young climate activists have occupied the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her inaction on climate change. The activists are part of a bold new group called Extinction Rebellion and have also kicked off a hunger strike. In a strongly worded letter to Pelosi titled, “Meet Us Or We Hunger Strike,” they said, “Every day the evidence piles up at your desk, but you have yet to pass even symbolic legislation recognizing the climate crisis as a national emergency. With all due respect, you have failed.” Meanwhile the Government Accountability Office on Monday issued a report asking Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with the rising risk of climate change to the nation’s Superfund sites. Wheeler has erroneously claimed that most of the worst impacts of climate change are, “50 to 75 years out,” but the GAO has found that 60% of Superfund sites are at serious risk of flooding.
And President Trump has backed off from banning flavored e-cigarettes even after his own federal regulators had backed the ban. A report by the Washington Post found that Trump is worried about sweeping regulations that could hurt his reelection chances and so has backed off from a ban on a product that is ensnaring millions of young people into a dangerous habit.
The New York Times and The Intercept have published a trove of hundreds of leaked intelligence reports from Iran that were given to them by an unknown person claiming to be Iraqi. According to the Times, the documents, “offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs,” and showing, “years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.” The document dump comes at the same time that protests are rocking both Iran and Iraq. In Iran, massive demonstrations took place in about 100 cities after the government hiked up the price of fuel. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the protesters as “thugs,” while the government shut down internet access across the country. And in Iraq, a month into widespread anti-corruption protests, angry residents blockaded roads leading to oil fields and forced the closure of the Iraq central Bank.
In Hong Kong, activists had occupied the campus of Polytechnic University but hundreds of police officers descended onto the campus and blocked all exits but one, raining down rubber bullets and tear gas as people tried to flee. Dozens of people have been injured. Over the weekend, soldiers from mainland China arrived in Hong Kong for the first time since the unrest began months ago. They cleared debris from protest sites but their presence was an ominous sign. On the same day, the New York Times published hundreds of documents from China’s government detailing the crackdown on Uighurs, China’s Muslim minority, in Xinjiang. The Times called it, “one of the most significant leaks of government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in decades.” Supporters of the Uighur community said the documents proved that China was running “concentration camps,” and that its actions amounted to “genocide.”