In this week’s headlines…
Updates on the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election exploded on Oct. 30, beginning when President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign advisor Rick Gates were indicted and pleaded not guilty on 12 charges of tax evasion, foreign lobbying and laundering millions of dollars through overseas shell companies.
An hour later, Special Counsel Robert S. Muller III announced that the Trump campaign’s former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his extensive contacts with Russian intelligence services and was cooperating with investigators. The same day, Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta quit his firm, the Podesta Group, which was hired to do lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine. Manafort and Gates are now under house arrest; their charges could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years (The New York Times, “Former Trump Aides Charged as Prosecutors Reveal New Campaign Ties With Russia,” 10.30.17).
On Oct. 26, Trump announced that he would instruct the Department of Health and Human Services to deem the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This action will allocate federal money and ease certain legal restrictions in order to address rising drug abuse in the U.S. Despite the fact that Trump called the crisis a “national emergency” in August, he chose not to declare it as such—even though such a classification would allow for more drastic remedial action (The New York Times, “Trump to Declare Opioid Crisis a ‘Public Health Emergency,’” 10.26.2017).
On Oct. 26, House Republicans approved a budget blueprint that would allow a tax bill to pass Congress without any Democratic sup- port (The New York Times, “House Passes Bud- get Blueprint, Clearing Path for Tax Overhaul,” 10.26.2017).
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) declared on Oct. 24 that he would not seek re-election next year, maintaining that he values his principles over his incumbency and denouncing Trump’s behavior as “reckless, outrageous and undignified” (The New York Times, “Jeff Flake, a Fierce Trump Critic, Will Not Seek Re-election for Senate,” 10.24.2017).
Between Nov. 3 and 14, Trump will visit five Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and China, all key players in the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea (The New York Times, “Trump Plans Trip to Asia Amid North Korea Crisis,” 9.29.2017).
On Oct. 24, Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 Senate tie, voting to nix a new rule that would have allowed citizens to join together in class action lawsuits to fight deceptive business practices by financial institutions (The New York Times, “Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits,” 10.24.2017).
Conservative website The Washington Free Beacon admitted to the House Intelligence Committee on Oct. 27 that it had hired the research firm that later produced for Democrats the dossier reporting links between Trump and the Russian government. The Free Beacon recruited the firm, Fusion GPS, in 2015 to investigate damaging information on various Republican candidates, but asked it to cease research in May 2016. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee started paying Fusion GPS that April for facts that formed the basis for the dossier. Trump interpreted the fact that the Democrats had paid the firm for the research as proof that the dossier was fodder for a political smear campaign (The New York Times, “Conservative Website First Funded Anti-Trump Research by Firm That Later Produced Dossier,” 10.27.2017).
In our backyard…
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has urged Dutchess County residents to dispose of unneeded and expired prescription drugs at designated drop-off sites, as part of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Nov. 4. Thanks to funding from the Dutchess County Medication Drop Box Program, which was launched in 2014, there are now 10 permanent disposal locations throughout the county. Molinaro stated that prescription medication abuse is a significant factor in the country’s addiction crisis and can be a gateway for drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. Since 2010, accidental overdoses have led to the deaths of 413 people in Dutchess County. The county collected and destroyed 2,545 pounds of medication last year and 1,500 pounds so far this year (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Dutchess asks residents to take part in Prescription Drug Take-Back Day,” 10.27.2017).
As part of Poughkeepsie’s efforts to combat the drug problem, Molinaro will focus on youth development through his “Path to Promise” initiative in the coming fiscal year. The initiative, introduced in February, is expected to be completed by Fall 2018, and a countywide youth summit is set for the end of that year. Molinaro said that the county’s emphasis on youth programming is in response to the recent rise in the number of foster children with parents who are affected by substance abuse.
The initiative will foster partnerships between the Department of Community and Family Services and two area nonprofits, and efforts will be geared towards finding homes for foster children, advocating for children who have left their homes due to substance abuse and other problems and increasing funding for the Boys and Girls Club (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Youth programs would get boost in Dutchess budget,” 10.27.2017).
On Oct. 26, the three candidates for the new at-large position in the City of Poughkeepsie Common Council presented their cases to become the ninth member of the current eight-person council. The candidates—Mike Young, Ann Finney and Mario Johnson—fielded questions on key issues that will guide the November general election, such as the city’s approximately $13 million deficit and the $1.9 million penalty that Poughkeepsie may face for failing to transfer eight city buses to Dutchess County after the transport consolidation. Johnson is a former council member and Independent who runs the Nubian Directions YouthBuild program and is a self-described “consensus builder.” Young, a Democrat running as a Republican, argued that he has the experience to bring order to a divided council. Finney highlighted her work as an accountant and lawyer, noting that it would aid her in making financial deals (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Poughkeepsie: At-large council candidates vie for new position,” 10.26.2017).
Keeping up with 2020 hopefuls…
In an Oct. 25 Vanity Fair article, former Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that he is not ruling out the possibility of a 2020 presidential bid, adding that he definitely would have run already had his son Beau Biden not fallen ill and passed away. In an InStyle interview, Biden said, “I’m familiar with the issues, and I think I could bring some talent there. So it’s not that I don’t think I’m equipped to do the job. We’ll just see.” Biden’s book, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose,” will be released Nov. 14.
After Trump nixed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced that she will not support an end-of-year spending bill unless lawmakers are clear on what they will do to protect undocumented immigrants in danger.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo both visited storm-ravaged Puerto Rico last week. On Oct. 27, Sanders met with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, took a tour and held meetings about how Congress can aid the island. Cuomo tweeted on Oct. 28 expressing New York’s ongoing support for recovery efforts.
On Oct. 28, Sanders visited three Toronto hospitals as part of his single-payer healthcare crusade. The next day, he joined Dr. Danielle Martin of the University of Toronto to speak on the lessons the U.S. can learn from the Canadian healthcare system.
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer has launched a $10 million advertising campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment, and the media attention has sparked speculation on a potential run by Steyer, whether it be for California governor, a Senate position or president in 2020 (CNN, “#2020Vision: Biden’s wide-open door; Harris takes a DACA stand; Warren opens up to Hill reporters,” 10.27.17).