Headlines: November 29, 2018
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The US Senate, in a rare show of bi-partisanship, voted 63-37 in a procedural bill to end support to Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war. Rather than be motivated by the horrific civilian casualties in Yemen, the vote was a rebuke to President Donald Trump for defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in the face of strong evidence that he had orchestrated the murder of a Washington Post journalist. The Senate’s procedural vote came hours after top Trump administration officials Mike Pompeo and James Mattis attempted to convince Senators that there was not enough evidence linking the crown prince to Jamal Khashoggi’s killing. There was indication that the White House had prevented CIA Director Gina Haspel from meeting with Senators to brief them on her agency’s report that Trump had denied. If Trump continues to dig in his heels, the Senate is likely to take its next vote the following week. Senators Bob Menendez and Republican Lindsey Graham spoke with reporters.
On the matter of protecting the Special Counsel investigation from White House interference, the Senate was not so united. A bill introduced by Republican Senator Jeff Flake, and Democrats Chris Coons and Corey Booker, would have codified protections for Robert Mueller’s work but it was voted down. Sen. Coons said to media, “I think, frankly, at the end of the day, [Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell has gotten reassurances from the president that he won’t act against Mueller, but those assurances are undermined every single day when President Trump both tweets untrue criticisms of Robert Mueller and his investigation and does other things that are unexpected or unconventional or unjustified.”
Sen. Flake, who threatened to withhold his votes for Trump’s judicial nominees to lower courts then made good on his promise. Flake sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chuck Grassley who chairs that committee announced on Wednesday that he would be canceling all the remaining votes on Trump’s judicial nominees until next year when Flake retires.
Meanwhile in the latest from the Special Counsel’s investigation, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen appeared in court on Thursday morning and made a surprising guilty plea to a charge by the Special Counsel’s team. According to Associated Press he, “is pleading guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on a Trump real estate deal in Russia,” and, “admitted to making false statements in 2017 to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.” Earlier this year Mr. Cohen had pled guilty to charges that involved bank fraud and election interference.
The Daily Beast broke the story on Wednesday that Stormy Daniels is accusing her lawyer Michael Avenatti of launching a defamation lawsuit aimed at Trump against her wishes. She also accused Avenatti of starting a second crowdfunding campaign for her legal expenses without her permission. Daniels is the adult film actress who had accused President Trump of paying her hush money ahead of the 2016 election to remain quiet about their affair. Avenatti had turned into somewhat of a celebrity lawyer this past year, engaging in a social media flame war with the President.
The Democratic Party held several crucial votes on Wednesday, most notably advancing the nomination of Representative Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. Thirty-two of her colleagues did vote against her however, representing the insurrection by a faction that wants new leadership. Still, Pelosi appeared triumphant after the vote and held a press conference. The position of House Speaker is one that the entire House of Representatives votes on, and Pelosi will need at least 218 votes to cement her position. So far she has 203 Democrats in her camp.
Progressive Democrat Barbara Lee was toppled from her position as chair of the Democratic Caucus in a vote of 123-113. Her replacement will be fellow Black Congressional Caucus member Hakeem Jeffries of New York. The 48-year old was characterized by the New York Times as, “the new face of House Democrats,” and compared to Barack Obama as a young and charismatic African American political leader. But critics pointed out that Jeffries is a “big-money Democrat,” and that Lee’s ouster is less about ushering in a younger generation of leaders than sweeping away progressivism. The criticism is particularly relevant given that the top 3 positions in the party remained with incumbents, all of whom are centrists and nearing age 80, including Pelosi.
In international news, the G20 is meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina this week. Among the issues that United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterrez has urged the group of 20 to focus on are climate change and the state of the global economy. Gutterez said before flying to Buenos Aires, “Those left behind by globalization are losing trust in governments and institutions,” and, “We are headed for a world of cataclysm and uncertainty due to climate disruption.” According to AP, “Guterres said the G-20 members are responsible for more than three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, and they have the money and power to tackle the climate issue.”
And finally US air strikes in Afghanistan have killed at least 30 civilians in Helmand province. The airstrikes are part of a US push to more aggressively attack Taliban forces on the ground that have made headway. According to the Guardian newspaper, “Afghanistan’s Nato-led force said Afghan government forces and US advisers came under fire from Taliban fighters in a compound in Garmsir district and called in an air strike. But the ground forces were not aware of any civilians in or near the compound.” One survivor of the attack said that there were 16 children among the dead. Another said that there were still bodies buried under the rubble which may increase the death toll. The UN has estimated that there were more civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first 9 months of this year than at anytime since 2009.