Trump to defy Congress to complete sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE
The Trump administration has informed Congress that it will circumvent its objections and complete the sale of more than $8bn in weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Jordan, according to a new report by Reuters.
Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Lawmakers and congressional aides warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals including the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency …
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that US partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.”
Read the rest of the report here.
Governor Jay Inslee became the latest Democratic candidate to qualify for the debates by receiving donations from 65,000 people, he announced today.
Inslee launched his bid on 1 March, and he’s campaigning almost exclusively on one issue: a plan to combat climate change.
Hello everyone, this is Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco taking over the live blog to see you through to the weekend.
While I enjoy these Friday afternoons on the politics blog, in my day job I’m a technology reporter, so it’s been interesting today to see those beats collide as political reporters and pundits express astonishment at Facebook’s decision not to delete a video of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that has been distorted to make her appear drunk.
While it’s understandable that people who don’t cover Facebook on a daily basis are surprised to hear this policy stated so baldly, it’s worth remembering what the alternative would be.
Do we want Facebook to have a policy that stipulates that the information posted on Facebook must be true? What would that look like? And how would it be enforced?
Could a cartoonist no longer depict a politician with exaggerated features? Could a satirical publication (such as the Onion) no longer publish articles that exaggerate reality in order to comment on broader truth? What about topics where scientists and researchers disagree? What is truth?
These discussions get very philosophical very quickly. Mark Zuckerberg has made very clear that he does not want to be forced into the position of arbitrating what is and is not true, and I think almost all of us would agree that we don’t want Zuckerberg or any other individual to have that much power either.
Many experts on misinformation have advocated for an approach referred to as “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach”. Under this framework, platforms such as Facebook should allow people to say what they want (within certain hard limits), but limit the reach of certain content that is objectionable but not banned.
This is the approach that Facebook decided to take on fake news in the aftermath of the 2016 election. It relies on third-party fact-checkers to determine which objectionable content should have its distribution cut back. Once an article or video has been fact-checked and found false, the number of people who see it without actively seeking it out diminishes rapidly.
So while the mechanics of the fact-checking program have rightly faced scrutiny and criticism, keep in mind that requiring Facebook to delete content based on truth would likely generate even more problems.
For a Friday before the Memorial Day weekend and with Congress in recess it’s been a surprisingly lively political scene in the US today.
And no sign of things calming down, as Trump is tweeting from Air Force One on his way to Japan and the 2020 Democratic candidates are fanning out across the nation to burn up shoe leather and make their mark.
- A federal judge blocked Mississippi’s strict abortion law, which sought to outlaw the procedure after just six weeks of pregnancy.
- House judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler is recovering after briefly fainting at an event in New York City earlier today with mayor Bill De Blasio.
- Trump plans to send 1,500 more troops to the Middle East as extra protection from and a show of force to Iran.
- The president continued to protest Democrats’ efforts to investigate him further in the wake of the Mueller report, while Robert Mueller himself is reluctant to testify on Capitol Hill except behind closed doors.
- The ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued the attorney general and a bunch of District Attorneys in Alabama, to block the state’s legislation aimed at banning most abortions there and testing Roe vs Wade at the US Supreme Court.
Federal judge blocks strict abortion law in Mississippi
A federal judge in Mississippi has blocked that state’s latest strict abortion law.
Judge Carlton Reeves on Friday afternoon blocked the ban on procedures after six weeks of pregnancy.
Reeves earlier this week heard arguments from the Center for Reproductive Rights, which challenged the state’s recently-passed ban that outlaws abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, CBS reported.
The new law was signed by the governor on March 21 and was scheduled to be implemented on July 1. Reeves is the same judge who struck down Mississippi’s 15-week ban late last year.
“Doesn’t it boil down to six is less than 15?” Reeves said, according to local news reports. The judge later said that new law “smacks of defiance to this court.”
The document does, however point out unquestioningly that the bill had sought to ban abortions “after a fetal heartbeat is detected.”
As the Guardian has previously pointed out, at six weeks, an embryo is not a fetus and does not have a recognizable heart. “Fetal heartbeat” is a term the anti-abortion lobby and certain extremists use to try to give its efforts extra emotive and visceral heft, but is sadly medically inaccurate and therefore misleading.
No ‘kiddies table’ at the first presidential primary debates – report
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and NBC News TV network have adopted a rule for next month’s opening presidential primary debates, Politico’s Zach Montellaro tweets about his latest story.
He continues that the eight candidates that have a polling average at or above two percent and fall into this top-tier group are: Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders and Warren. This means four will appear on night one and four on night two.
Sounds like a recipe for better ratings! Lordy, November 2020 such is a long way off.
Jerry Nadler recovering
House judiciary committee chairman Jerry Nadler ended up in hospital on Friday after apparently briefly fainting at a press event in New York.
We reported on this a little earlier, and Nadler later tweeted that he was okay.
Nadler was taken to a hospital after apparently fainting during a road safety news conference with city mayor (and newly-minted, though not terribly popular, 2020 presidential candidate) Bill De Blasio.
Nadler, 71, was seated at a table in a gymnasium at Public School 199 on the Upper West Side, where De Blasio was heralding the expansion of New York City’s speed camera program, the New York Times writes.
Thirty minutes after Nadler made brief remarks, his head appeared to slump. Three medical professionals who were in the room rushed to attend to the congressman, who was conscious as gym bunny De Blasio helped him take sips from the mayor’s own metal water bottle. The area was cleared and a fan switched off to help cool the politician down.
It’s been a tough month at the political front lines for Nadler, a long-time foe of Donald Trump’s from their time ruling the roost in New York politics and real estate, what with subpoenas and contempt of congress votes over witness no-shows at his hearings, and the like, in what many think amount to a constitutional crisis in US politics amid White House stonewalling.
The Guardian’s Lauren Gambino listed him as one of the top figures set to make life difficult for Trump after the Democrats took control of the House in January, following their victory in the 2018 midterm elections.
Supreme Court blocks order to redraw congressional maps
The US Supreme Court on Friday temporarily blocked lower court rulings that had ordered Republican legislators in Michigan and Ohio to redraw US congressional maps ahead of the 2020 elections after finding that the current districts were designed to illegally diminish the power of Democratic voters.
The justices granted requests from Republican lawmakers in both states to stay those decisions, Reuters reports.
The lower courts had found that the electoral maps had been drawn to entrench the majority party in power, a practice known as partisan gerrymandering, in violation of the US Constitution.
While both disputes involve House of Representatives districts in the two states, the Michigan case also challenges districts in the state legislature as well.
The decisions in Michigan and Ohio that were put on hold by the justices were the latest rulings by federal courts determining that electoral maps designed by a state’s majority party unconstitutionally undermined the rights of voters who tend to support the other party.
Two other gerrymandering challenges are already pending at the Supreme Court, with rulings due by the end of June.
In one case, Republican legislators in North Carolina are accused of rigging congressional maps to boost their party’s chances in that state. In the other case, Democrats in Maryland face similar allegations over one House district.
Trump to send troops to the Middle East over Iran threat
The US currently has troops stationed in Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as part of its Middle East contingent.
The Pentagon plans to boost surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance aircraft in the region as well as boots on the ground.
Trump has in recent weeks alternated between tough talk toward Iran and a more conciliatory message, insisting he is open to negotiations with the Islamic Republic. He seemed to downplay the prospect of conflict when he spoke at the White House earlier today.
“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight and I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” he said.
The administration notified Congress earlier in the day about the troop plans.
The forces would number “roughly” 1,500 and would deploy in the coming weeks, “with their primary responsibilities and activities being defensive in nature,” according to a copy of the notification obtained by The Associated Press.
Their mission would include protecting US forces already in the region and ensuring freedom of navigation, the notification said.
Some allies have previously said they had detected no heightened threat from Iran and observers have speculated that the whole ratcheting up of tensions could have been a misunderstanding – or one of Trump’s ploys to boost his electoral chances with a show of force or simply as a habitual distraction.
Off the wall
A federal judge is expected to decide later today whether to block the White House from spending billions of dollars to build a wall on the US-Mexico border with money secured under Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency.
The judge is weighing two cases that challenged the maneuver to redirect mostly military-designated funding for wall construction.
California and 19 other states, along with environmentalists, civil liberties groups and communities along the border, are seeking a temporary injunction to halt construction plans, the AP writes.
At stake is billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that Trump wants for the wall, his signature 2016 campaign promise when he had crowds chanting his slogan that Mexico would pay for it (which it has refused to do), heading into his 2020 campaign.
He declared the emergency in February after losing a fight over fully paying for it that led to a 35-day government shutdown.
Attorney general William Barr has been hanging out in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, one of the president’s flagship properties.
He was there at the same time as Donald Trump on Wednesday, ABC reporter Katherine Faulders tweeted.
Although Trump has distanced himself from the running of his business empire since ascending to the White House, this hotel in particular is a conservative power players’ destination in DC (and the source of emoluments complaints, though so far in vain).
Meanwhile, The Hill reports, Republican candidates and campaign committees have spent more than $4 million at hotel, golf and vineyard properties that bear Trump’s name since he was inaugurated in 2017.
More than three dozen members of Congress have held fundraisers or spent the night at Trump properties, according to a review of filings made with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over the last two years.
More than a quarter of the money spent has come from Trump’s own campaign, which has paid his businesses nearly $1.5 million over that span, both for rent and for fundraisers.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has spent more than $1.1 million at Trump-branded properties in both Washington and Florida.
Trump is aboard Air Force one
The White House reporters’ pool sends this dispatch:
Marine One landed at a delightfully sunny, breezy Joint Base Andrews at 12.32PM. POTUS boarded AF1 five minutes later with a wave and thumbs up, but without talking to pool. He was accompanied by FLOTUS. Also spotted: Sarah Sanders, Dan Scavino and Mick Mulvaney.
We’re expecting a little less than 15 hour journey to Tokyo, arriving Saturday afternoon local for a trip, ending Tuesday.
The president will become the first foreign leader to meet with Emperor Naruhito since his enthronement.
Sumo, bilats with PM Shinzo Abe and a naval base visit also expected.
Then, extraordinarily, after yesterday’s combustion between Trump and Pelosi, where she implied that Potus was nuts or unfit, or something, and needed an intervention, while he actually called her “Crazy Nancy”, Donald Trump just earlier told reporters on the White House lawn: “I can work with the Speaker. Absolutely I can work with her.”
Trump called Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ‘attempted coup’
Trump says he will declassify documents related to the origins of the investigation into Russia’s links to 2016 election campaign.
Speaking on the White House lawn, he reporters that the investigation was “an attempted coup,” Reuters writes.
The president said the documents could run to “millions of pages” and the comments come a day after he granted attorney general William Barr new powers to review and potentially release classified information.
The president ordered the US intelligence community to “quickly and fully cooperate” with Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Trump said Barr is “in charge” and “let’s see what he finds.”
Our David Smith further reported thus:
Trump says he will declassify documents related to the origins of the investigation into Russia’s links to his 2016 election campaign
I’m not sure it you’ve become mixed up about investigations, especially on a Friday afternoon, but in short, Trump, via his attorney general William Barr, is now investigating the origins of the investigation of links between his 2016 campaign and Russia, which began when James Comey was director of the FBI and continued under Robert Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel by the Department of Justice in May 2017 after Trump fired Comey.
Meanwhile, Democrats in congress want to investigate more of what Mueller was investigating, because of perceived gaps in his inquiry and a good deal of opacity around the findings and underlying evidence.
But it’s the investigation of the investigation that Trump is interested in and was getting at in another rant at reporters outside the White House a little while ago. Trump believes it was all based on a hoax, namely false allegations that he or his campaign had improper or illegal relations with Moscow and its operatives during the election and that he later tried to obstruct justice.
Trump even said he may talk to Theresa May about it when he meets with her next month on his UK visit.
“I may talk to her about that, maybe that the FBI and the others, CIA, were involved, having to do with the Russian hoax,” he said, somewhat bafflingly, on the White House lawn – bearing in mind that he has accused, without evidence, the US intelligence community of being hostile towards his presidency.
He also said he will declassify related documents.
Trump again says no re-do over Mueller
Returning to the subject that blew up relations entirely between the president and congressional Democrats this week – post-Mueller investigations of the president by Democrat-led House committees and a vicious war of words between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – Trump reiterated yesterday’s speech that he can’t cooperate over bipartisan legislation in the current political climate.
“All they talk about is this,” he told reporters on the White House lawn moments ago, referring to Democrats’ requests and subpoenas for the un-redacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller of his Trump-Russia investigation, and related witness testimony.
“I would like to talk about lowering drug prices,” he said, referring to America’s notoriously pricey prescription drugs and health care.
“I can get prices down but I can’t do that if all they try to do is a re-do of the Mueller report. It’s over, there is no re-do, they lost,” Trump said.
Donald Trump further praised the departing British PM, Theresa May, saying: “She worked very hard. She was very strong. She tried to do something [Brexit….] that some people were surprised at, but it was for the good of the country. I’ll see her in two weeks.”
The president is bringing a large family entourage to Britain when he begins a state visit on June 3.
As my colleague Julian Borger wrote yesterday, during the three-day visit Trump will meet May in what is likely to be an uncomfortable session.
Trump will briefly visit Ireland on June 5 before going to England and France for June 6 D-Day commemorations.
On a glorious late spring day in the capital, our David Smith snapped this shot of Potus and Flotus heading for the heli, across the gorgeous lawn with a backdrop of verdant trees and the Washington Monument.
Who knew the swamp could look so idyllic?