Headlines: October 17, 2019
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Maryland representative and prominent political figure Elijah Cummings has passed away. He was 68. According to a statement from his office, Mr. Cummings died from “complications concerning long-standing health challenges.” Cummings’s political career began in the Maryland House of Delegates where he became the youngest chairperson of the Legislative Black Caucus. He went on to represent Baltimore in the US House of Representatives and became chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Cummings was Chair of the House Oversight and Reform committee, and one of the Democratic leaders spearheading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, when he passed away. Four years ago when Freddie Gray was killed by police in Baltimore, Mr. Cummings spoke at his funeral. That’s the late Elijah Cummings in 2015 at Freddie Gray’s funeral. His fellow Democrats mourned his death with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Cummings, “our North Star,” and saying that she was, “personally devastated.” President Trump, who had gotten into an ugly online feud with Cummings just months ago, insulting his city as “rat infested,” issued a proclamation in his honor.
In news from the impeachment inquiry, In news from the impeachment inquiry, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted in a press briefing on Thursday that the Trump administration held up US military aid to Ukraine until they agreed to help the President investigate his Democratic rivals. Mulvaney also announced that the next G7 meeting would be held at Trump’s resort in Doral, Florida, that the President still owns and profits from.
Meanwhile, Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union testified behind closed doors on Thursday and reportedly broke with Trump on the Ukraine scandal. According to reports, Sondland testified that Trump delegated the US’s foreign policy on Ukraine to his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and he was not aware initially that Giuliani’s goal may have been, “to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign.” In his opening remarks Sondland said he was “disappointed” by the decision to involve Giuliani and that, “Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine.” Meanwhile the Washington Post reported that Sondland was in the middle of a taxpayer funded renovation to the government-provided home he is living in, to the tune of $1 million. The renovations involve “$30,000 for a new sound system and $95,000 for an outdoor “living pod” with a pergola and electric heating, LED lighting strips and a remote-control system.” Taxpayers also paid $100,000 for Sondland to live elsewhere while the remodeling was being done.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate is preparing for an impeachment trial of Trump as soon as this Thanksgiving. McConnell apparently addressed his fellow Republican Senators during a closed-door lunch using a power-point presentation to explain the process. McConnell has emerged as Trump’s strongest ally and appears to be readying a process to exonerate the President. Meanwhile a group called Republicans for the Rule of Law is funding an ad campaign in the home states of about a dozen Senate Republicans, urging them to speak out against Trump and calling Trump’s controversial Ukraine phone call, “fundamentally un-American.”
The investigative news outlet ProPublica has obtained some of Trump’s tax records and loan applications using a Freedom of Information act request from the state of New York. What the reporters found was that there were, “stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities.” This meant that, “The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.” Tax experts who saw the documents labeled Trump’s actions as, “fraud.”
Trump on Wednesday came under fire for attempting to stage a bizarre publicity stunt exploiting the grief of a British couple who had lost their son. Harry Dunn was killed by an American woman named Anne Sacoolas who was driving her car down the street in the wrong direction. Dunn’s parents have demanded her extradition to the UK and were in the US to publicize their son’s story when they were invited to the White House. Trump ambushed the two saying that Sacoolas was in the room next door. The two grieving parents responded later that the attempt was highly inappropriate and that what they want is extradition.
Trump’s childish conduct was on display for a second time on Wednesday when a letter that he had written to Turkish President Erdogan about Turkey’s assault on Northern Syria was made public. Trump began the brief letter with the words, “Let’s work out a good deal!” Following that he made a threat saying, “I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will.” He ended the letter saying, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool.” Turkish authorities told the BBC, “President Erdogan received the letter, thoroughly rejected it and put it in the bin.” Trump also had a closed-door meeting with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Wednesday about the situation in Syria. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes during which, according to Pelosi, Trump had a “meltdown,” and called her a “third-grade politician.” Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in Turkey for meetings with the Turkish President on the situation in Syria, and Turkey has now agreed to a 5-day ceasefire.
Twenty-five thousand teachers in Chicago, Illinois are on strike. The nation’s third largest school district has come to a standstill as 300,000 children are out of the classroom. The Washington Post explained that the striking educators want, “pay raises, a restorative justice coordinator for every school, and hiring more librarians, nurses and teacher’s assistants.” Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said the district cannot afford to meet the demands. Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors is coming to an end as both sides announced agreement on a new 4-year contract for workers. Although the deal is not public, AP reports that according to GM it includes, “wage increases and lump-sum payments, top-notch health insurance at little cost to workers, promises of new products for many U.S. factories and a path to full-time work for temporary workers.”
And finally British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a deal with the European Union on conditions for his country’s exit from the EU. The Brexit debacle had confounded Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May and led to her resignation. It remains to be seen if Parliament will vote ‘yes’ on the deal this weekend. The EU has announced that even if the vote fails there will be no extension to the October 31st deadline for a Brexit deal.