In this week’s headlines…
Wednesday marked another mass shooting in a United States school, this time in Parkland, Florida. The shooter has been identified as 19-year-old Nicolas Cruz, a former student who was expelled for disciplinary reasons. The shooting left 17 people dead and many more injured. This has been at least the fourth school shooting this year, and falls under one of the top 10 deadliest shootings in modern U.S. history.
President Trump has addressed the nation in response to the shooting, focusing his remarks on mental health and omitting any mention of gun regulation (CNN, “In shooting’s wake, Trump urges children to seek help if they feel ‘lost, alone, confused or even scared,” 02.15.2018).
This week has seen two immigration bills come and go. The first, a bipartisan plan, failed to secure the requisite 60 votes in the Senate after the White House lobbied against it. The second bill was a White House-backed proposal to provide $25 billion for border security in exchange for the possibility of citizenship for two million Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The Senate voted this down by an even larger margin. The Trump administration’s proposal would increase federal deportation powers and heavily cut family-based legal migration. The deadline to help DREAMers is less than three weeks away, since Trump has slated DACA to expire on March 5 (CNN, “Bipartisan DACA, border security deal fails in Senate, putting immigration bill’s future in doubt,” 02.15.2018).
Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, indicating he is willing to cooperate in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Gates would be the third person to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, after former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. His cooperation would not only greatly advance the investigation itself but would also put pressure on the other defendant in the case, Paul Manafort (CNN, “Exclusive: A top Trump campaign adviser close to plea deal with Mueller,” 02.17.2018).
On Friday, Feb. 16, Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian organizations for involvement in tampering with the election. These represent the first charges in Mueller’s investigation (CNN, “Mueller indicts 13 Russian nationals over 2016 election interference,” 02.17.2018).
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, U.S. intelligence chiefs warned that Russia will certainly try to influence the 2018 midterm elections, and many lawmakers have expressed fears that the U.S. electoral system is just as unprepared as it was two years ago. On Tuesday, intelligence officers stated that Moscow has already started its online strategy by using fake accounts on social media with the objective of increasing political and social divisions in the U.S. However, the Trump administration still insists that they did not collude with Russia (The New York Times, “Russia Sees Midterm Elections as Chance to Sow Fresh Discord, Intelligence Chiefs Warn,” 02.13.2018).
The long-awaited inflation report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that consumer prices rose by 0.5 percent, which is more than economists forecasted. Many hoped that investors would be calmed by this report, since the turmoil in stock markets last week was partly a response to fears that the central bank would increase interest rates due to inflation. However, investors remain worried, and the surprisingly high inflation rates in the report only add to their uncertainty about the direction of central bank policy (The Economist, “The markets still have plenty to fret about,” 02.15.2018).
The International Energy Agency reported on Tuesday, Feb. 13, that the U.S. could soon overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer. The Agency called the increase of the pace of the output of American shale fields “extraordinary” (The Financial Times, “U.S. on track to become world’s largest oil producer,” 02.13.2018).
Around the world…
Former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma stepped down on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the day before a no-confidence vote in parliament. This presented the end of his nine-year rule, which was plagued by years of corruption-related scandals. Only hours after Zuma stepped down, Cyril Ramaphosa was confirmed as the new president. He was a trade union leader during the apartheid and played an important role as a chief negotiator for Nelson Mandela (CNN, “Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed as South Africa’s President after Zuma quits,” 02.15.2018).
Following a yearlong investigation into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli police announced on Tuesday, Feb. 13, that Netanyahu should be charged with bribery and fraud. He is accused of accepting almost $300,000 in gifts in exchange for favors. The evidence will be presented to the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, who has to decide whether to press charges. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing (The New York Times, “Corruption Charges Suggested for Netanyahu,” 02.13.2018).
Peru has uninvited Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from a regional summit meeting due to concerns over Venezuela’s plans to hold an early presidential election. The election has been announced for April 22, without reaching an agreement with opposition party over how to ensure a free and fair vote. Additionally, Venezuela’s neighboring country Colombia announced that it will tighten its border security in response to thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the economic and political crisis (The New York Times, “Peru Withdraws Venezuela’s Invitation to Regional Meeting,” 02.13.2018).
Keeping up with 2020 hopefuls…
Governor of Ohio John Kasich is considering different ways to challenge President Trump in 2020. Kasich will reportedly either run as a Republican in the primaries or as an Independent in the general election (CNN, “#2020Vision: Warren talks ‘Pocahontas’ while Booker, Gillibrand swear off corporate cash,” 02.16.2018).
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), a possible Democratic frontrunner in 2020, has issued a response to President Trump’s use of the nickname “Pocahontas.” She insisted that she has Native American heritage at the National Congress of American Indians on Wednesday, Feb. 14 (CNN, “#2020Vision: Warren talks ‘Pocahontas’ while Booker, Gillibrand swear off corporate cash,” 02.16.2018).
Two Democratic Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), announced their intentions not to accept donations from corporate political action committees. Their decisions came as a result of fear of being closely associated with corporate America. Gillibrand tweeted on Tuesday, Feb. 13, “I will no longer accept donations from corporate PACs … I hope you’ll join me in doing everything we can to fight to reform our broken campaign finance system.” Booker quickly followed suit (CNN, “#2020Vision: Warren talks ‘Pocahontas’ while Booker, Gillibrand swear off corporate cash,” 02.16.2018).