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February 4, 2019

2-4-2019 Highlights from Last Week….

Week in Review

The Trump administration

  • The Trump administration announced the United States will withdraw from an arms control pact with Russia known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty as soon as today. American officials have accused Russia of being out of compliance with the agreement, and have raised concerns that China, which isn’t part of the 1987 treaty, is gaining military advantage in Asia that the U.S. can’t counter.
  • Trump said in an interview he was skeptical that lawmakers will be able to strike a deal he could accept over funding for his proposed border wall, again raising the possibility of invoking emergency powers.
  • It was reported that Trump sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for several minutes at the the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November with no American translator or notetaker on hand, only first lady Melania Trump, sources said. Trump had canceled a formal bilateral meeting with Putin at the time as the Russian president faced international condemnation over his seizure of Ukrainian sailors in the Azov Sea.
  • The United States and the Taliban agreed in principle to a framework for a peace deal in Afghanistan, according to Zalmay Khalilzad, the top United States negotiator. A senior U.S. official said the Taliban delegation had asked to confer with the group’s leaders about the insistence by Americans that the insurgents talk with the Afghan government and agree to a ceasefire as part of any final deal.
  • Trump is considering former pizza executive Herman Cain for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, according to sources. If Cain were to get the nod, his nomination could face hurdles in the Senate over the accusations of sexual harassment and infidelity that contributed to the end of his 2012 presidential campaign.
  • In testimony before senators, American intelligence chiefs contradicted Trump on a number of policy issues, including North Korea’s plans for denuclearization, Iran’s intent to build nuclear weapons and the level of threat posed by the Islamic State group. The president reacted by calling U.S. intelligence officials “ extremely passive and naive” about the danger of Iran and claimed “tremendous progress” in destroying the Islamic State group and denuclearizing North Korea.
  • National Security Advisor John Bolton said the United States will impose new sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company amid international pressure on leader Nicolás Maduro to give up power. The move comes after the Trump administration and other countries recognized Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president.

Congress 

  • At the first meeting of a bipartisan conference committee of 17 lawmakers tasked with striking a deal on Department of Homeland Security funding by Feb. 15, House Democrats proposed tightening border security with technology and more personnel, but no new physical barriers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters there wouldn’t be “any wall money in the legislation” that bipartisan House and Senate negotiators are working on to fund the Department of Homeland Security and avert another partial government shutdown on Feb. 16.
  • Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said his committee is planning to change the chamber’s rules to cut debate time on lower-level nominees, a move that would accelerate the confirmation of Trump’s judicial and executive branch picks.
  • The Senate voted in favor of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s measure that would declare the Islamic State group’s operations in Syria and Afghanistan a serious threat to the United States, a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s rationale for withdrawing U.S. troops from both countries. The Kentucky Republican’s amendment was added to broader legislation concerning Middle East policy that has yet to pass the chamber and is expected to face challenges in the House.

The investigations

  • Investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee obtained evidence showing Donald Trump Jr.’s blocked phone calls ahead of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians were not to his father. Phone records show the president’s eldest son spoke instead with two family friends who used blocked numbers, NASCAR chief executive Brian France and the investor Howard Lorber, contradicting long-held suspicions among Democrats.
  • Trump said in an interview he will not interfere with the Justice Department’s decision about how to handle the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
  • Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Mueller’s investigation is “close to being completed.” The comment marked the first official acknowledgement that the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election may soon reach a conclusion.
  • Mueller’s office said the Russians are trying to use materials obtained from their investigation in a disinformation campaign to discredit the probe. Court documents state that documents provided by Mueller’s team to a firm linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of the legal process were altered and disseminated online.

2020

  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced he’s running for president. The 49-year-old, who was elected to the Senate in 2013 after serving as Newark’s mayor, launched his campaign on the first day of Black History Month, and plans to visit Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire later this month.
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he will not seek the Democratic nomination for president, declining a long-shot bid after nearly two years of considering an attempted leap from City Hall to the White House. Garcetti’s announcement came after he took a high-profile role in the Los Angeles teachers’ strike despite having no authority over public education, an issue he said helped convince him to stick around.
  • Former Starbucks executive Howard Schultz said in a CBS interview that he was considering mounting an independent run for president. The comments drew a swift backlash from Democrats who said the move could help Trump win re-election.

States

  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) told reporters he would not resign amid a backlash to a 1984 medical school yearbook page photo featuring one person wearing blackface and another dressed like a member of the Ku Klux Klan. During a news conference, Northam denied that he appeared in the photo, but acknowledged he once wore dark shoe polish on his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.
  • Following the news conference, Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined a chorus of party officials, including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, several presidential candidates and Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, in calling on Northam to resign.

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