In our headlines …
President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday, Feb. 15, less than 24 hours after both chambers of Congress approved a bill that allotted only $1.3 billion for his infamous border wall. He defended himself and his intention to divert nearly $8 billion to the wall, despite acknowledging that the situation did not constitute an emergency when he stated, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.” Democrats have unanimously denounced the action as a waste of resources and a blatant attempt at executive overreach to circumvent Congress. Republican reaction is split between those who worry about the precedent this could potentially set for future presidents—especially those with liberal agendas such as universal healthcare—while others’ sentiments reflect that of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.), who privately tried to sway the president’s decision while publicly supporting him. Many Republicans blame Democrats for refusing to acknowledge the “crisis” along the southern border, despite the net decrease in crossings from over one million to a quarter of that since 2000 (The New York Times, “Trump Declares a National Emergency, and Provokes a Constitutional Clash,” 02.15.2019).
Freshman Democratic Representative from Minnesota Ilhan Omar came under fire twice this week from establishment Democrats. First, Omar was accused of anti-Semitism for tweeting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) funds members of Congress, feeding into the stereotype that Jews are massively influential because of monetary wealth. Others believe she is being unfairly criticized for calling out the largest pro-Israel lobbying firm on Capitol Hill. Omar apologized for giving into the trope and maintained that she separates the Jewish people from the Israeli government—the latter of which Omar renounces for its human rights violations against Arabs. The second controversy came when Omar grilled nominee for U.S. envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams over his record of lying about complicity in the Iran-Contra scandal and various incidents of mass killings in Central America. Institutional Democrats defended Abrams to protect American interests abroad. However, various polls show that Omar’s views on both events align with those of the American people more than those of establishment Democrats (The Guardian, “Democratic party elites silence Ilhan Omar at their peril,” 02.16.2019).
Trump’s nominee for U.N. ambassador Heather Nauert withdrew from consideration for the position after it was revealed that she failed to pay taxes some years and hired a nanny who was not legally authorized to work in the country. Nauert, a former Fox & Friends host and State Department spokeswoman, stated, “The past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration.” The formal paperwork was never submitted to the Senate, in spite of open declarations about her nomination (CNN, “Heather Nauert withdraws from consideration as UN ambassador,” 02.17.2019).
Around the world …
The Munich Security Conference proved to decades-old allies that the United States no longer shares their priorities. The conference report stated that the Trump administration, represented by Vice President Mike Pence, displayed a “disdain for international institutions and agreements.” Prior to the event, Pence organized a meeting in Warsaw to ask France, Germany and the U.K. to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal—all declined the invitation. Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel publicly rebuked the United States’ decision to do just that and withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. She received a sustained ovation, one which then-present Ivanka Trump did not join. Pence defended the Trump administration’s foreign policy decisions, citing the increased contributions to NATO by member nations as evidence (NPR, “Munich Security Conference Reveals A Growing Rift Between U.S. And Its Allies,” 02.16.2019).
Pope Francis defrocked, for the first time in history, an American cardinal for his rampant solicitation of sex from minors. Theodore McCarrick was the Archbishop of Washington D.C. and served as a symbol of power in the American Catholic Diocese. The decision came after years of allegations against Catholic priests surfaced; the chief pontiff was criticized for moving slowly on an issue that plagues his followers. Hundreds of priests and several ranking members of the Church were defrocked or removed from their positions, and last year the Pope convened in a bishop’s conference to discuss the crisis. Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests hailed the landmark decision, one of whom, James Grein, told The New York Times, “It is with profound sadness that I have had to participate in the canonical trial of my abuser …With that said, today I am happy that the Pope believed me” (The New York Times, “Pope Defrocks Theodore McCarrick, Ex-Cardinal Accused of Sexual Abuse,” 02.16.2019).
Indian officials struggle to respond to an attack against a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir, reported to be the deadliest suicide-bombing in decades, killing 44 of India’s Central Reserve Police Force personnel. The armed Jaish-e-Mohammed group, a separatist Pakistani jihadi organization based in Azad-e-Kashmir, claimed responsibility for the incident months after historic protests against the Indian government by Kashmiris who were seeking either self-determination or a merger with Pakistan. India’s first order was to withdraw Most-Favored Nation status from Pakistan, then publicly state its intention to isolate its rival from the international community. Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua rejected New Delhi’s claims that the former’s government was involved in the attacks. Human rights groups have criticized the Indian government for using excessive force in Kashmir as a proxy for war with Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ascension bolstered Hindu Nationalism and further frustrated the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir. Both sides privately prepare for armed conflict, though recently-elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan offered to host talks with Indian officials after the upcoming general election (Al Jazeera, “What are Indiaís options against Pakistan after Kashmir attack?,” 02.16.2019).