In this week’s headlines…
Further developments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election revealed new details about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between President Trump’s campaign leaders and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. On Friday, April 27, newly released emails showed that Veselnitskaya, who previously denied having a connection to the Russian government, was actually an informant for top Kremlin officials (CNN, “NYT: Russian lawyer at Trump Tower meeting had closer ties to Kremlin than previously disclosed,” 04.27.2018).
On Wednesday, April 25, Ronny Jackson, Trump’s doctor and a candidate to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew his nomination. Many have questioned Jackson’s qualifications for the job, while Trump has strongly defended him. Jackson withdrew due to multiple allegations of inappropriate conduct, including creating a hostile environment, being intoxicated at work and loosely prescribing medications (The Guardian, “White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdraws as VA secretary nominee,” 04.26.2018).
The Senate confirmed former CIA Director Mark Pompeo as Secretary of State on Thursday, April 26. The late confirmation was a result of hesitation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA director has become less certain due to rising concerns regarding her involvement in the waterboarding of CIA detainees in 2002 (The Hill, “Senate confirms Pompeo as Trump’s new Secretary of State,” 04.26.2018).
On Tuesday, April 24, Trump announced that he will send Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to China, along with other top economic advisors. Their goal will be preventing an all-out trade war with China as a result of Trump’s newly imposed tariffs (The New York Times, “Steven Mnuchin Will Head to China as Trade Tensions Mount,” 04.24.2018).
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee announced that they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House disagreed with the findings, saying that the committee failed to follow up on important leads or conduct relevant interviews (The New York Times, “Republicans on House Intelligence Panel Absolve Trump Campaign in Russian Meddling,” 04.27.2018).
Bill Cosby was found guilty on April 26 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting former professional basketball player Andrea Constand. Many have cited the #MeToo movement as influencing the outcome of the trial. Cosby was sentenced to 30 years in prison (BBC, “Bill Cosby found guilty of sexual assault in retrial,” 04.26.2018).
Around the World…
The summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In made history on Friday, April 27. The leaders announced an official end to the Korean war, which has lasted for 68 years. The leaders have agreed to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, with North Korea announcing that it will suspend all missile launches and nuclear tests. The North has further promised to give up the weapons if the United States promises not to invade (Financial Times, “North and South Korean leaders declare end to war,” 04.27.2018).
Trump has threatened not to renew the Iranian nuclear deal, though the deadline for renewal is approaching on May 12. In the past week, French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have visited the White House with the goal of convincing Trump not to leave the agreement. If the United States does not renew the deal, Iran has threatened to resume its enrichment program, claiming it can create a 20-percent-enriched uranium in four days. Uranium used for nuclear weapons has to be above 90 percent enriched. When asked about how much of a threat Iran is to the United States, Trump responded, “They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons, you can bank on it” (CNN, “Trump has absolutely no reason to blow up the Iran deal,” 04.30.2018; The Jerusalem Post, “Ahead of US nuke deal deadline, Iran threatens to renew enrichment,” 04.10.2018).
This week, Macron visited Trump at the White House. On Tuesday, April 24, Trump entertained Macron with a state dinner, the first such event for the Trump administration. The goal of the visit was for Macron to persuade Trump not to leave the Iran deal. Many believe that Macron is one of the few people who can convince the president; he has been called a “Trump whisperer.” However, when he left Washington, it remained unclear whether he had succeeded in persuading Trump. On Wednesday, April 25, Macron gave a speech in front of the U.S. Congress. While his demeanor was friendly, his message was a strong opposition to Trump’s nationalistic, America-first policy (BBC, “What does a Trump-Macron bromance mean for the world?” 04.23.2018; The New York Times, “Macron Critiques Trump’s Policies in Speech to Congress,” 04.25.2018).
Friday, April 27, marked the visit of another European leader and a key United States ally to Washington, namely German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In comparison to Macron, Merkel received a far less extravagant welcome, which consisted of a few hours of closed-door meetings. A central topic discussed was the Iran deal. Merkel reportedly reinforced Macron’s urging not to leave the deal. Trade relations between the United States and the European Union were another important topic of the visit. Merkel demanded an exemption from aluminum and steel tariffs (The New York Times, “Trump and Merkel Meet One on One, but Don’t See Eye to Eye,” 04.27.2018).
Large protests erupted in Nicaragua last week and lasted for days, even after President Daniel Ortega backed down. At least 34 people were killed, news channels were blocked and a journalist was killed while recording a broadcast. Protesters were opposing Ortega’s proposal to reform the pension system, which would result in Nicaraguans having to pay more and receiving lower pensions (The Economist, “The violent end of Daniel Ortega’s decade of quiet,” 04.26.2018).
Last week, Palestinians in Gaza demonstrated on the border with Israel. This is the fourth protest in the past several weeks. Over the course of the protests, the Israeli army shot and killed 40 Palestinians. Israel claims that Hamas is using the protests as a cover for attacks (The New York Times, “For Gaza Protester, Living or Dying Is the ‘Same Thing,’” 04.29.2018).
Keeping up with 2020 hopefuls…
Possible Democratic candidates for president in 2020 have been presenting a number of progressive policies. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) launched a number of pilot programs for creating jobs, which were co-sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Gillibrand has also proposed the Postal Banking Act, which would allow local post offices to conduct some banking services (CNN, “#2020Vision: Booker’s jobs guarantee; Sanders and Biden up in New Hampshire; Buttigieg’s state travel,” 04.29.2018).
In a poll released by the University of New Hampshire on April 25, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is leading among Democratic primary voters with 28 percent. Former Vice President Joe Biden is in the second place with 26 percent. Warren came in third place with 11 percent (CNN, “#2020Vision”).