The News Memo
Stories this week:
16 States Sue Trump Administration Over National Emergency Declaration
Last Friday, President Trump averted a government shutdown by signing a bipartisan spending deal, which included $1.375 billion for fencing and physical barriers along the southern border. After signing the bill, Mr. Trump declared a national emergency to bypass congressional approval and direct $6.7 billion from the military and other sources to construct the wall. Democrats and some Republicans denounced the decision, arguing it was an abuse of executive power. Since Congress passed the National Emergencies Act in 1976, roughly five dozen emergencies have been initiated by U.S. presidents; however, this is the first to be invoked when Congress has failed to fund a project.
What happened this week?
In response to the emergency declaration, California, along with 15 other states, have filed a suit against the Trump administration, claiming it acted with “flagrant disregard for the separation of powers.” States are focusing on Trump’s words on Friday after the emergency was declared, when he said,“I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” The suit claims that Trump is diverting state funds for law enforcement and anti-drug efforts. They have also cited possible environmental damage in constructing the wall.
The suit was filed in a Federal District Court in San Francisco, which has previously ruled against the president, especially on immigration matters. At this point it is unclear, but the lawsuit may halt the implementation of the emergency declaration, and block the $6.7 billion as the case unfolds. All 16 of the states have Democratic attorney generals, and all but one have Democratic state governors. Other advocacy groups either have or are planning to file similar suits. House Democrats are also weighing options to counter the emergency, including a lawsuit of their own, and a vote to overturn the declaration.
In related news, the Trump administration terminated a $929 million grant for the continued construction of a high-speed rail in California this week. The governor of California called it “political retribution” for the border suit.
What to look for moving forward:
Although the suit raises broad constitutional issues such as the separation of powers, legal experts say it will likely be decided on smaller, complex legal details. Further, while the House may vote to overturn the declaration, they are unlikely to have enough votes to override a veto by President Trump.
The Justice Department is expected to encourage the courts to defer to President Trump’s decision. In the past, courts have been hesitant to overturn a president’s declaration when it comes to security threats. Part of the complication lies in the fact that the 1976 Nat’l Emergencies Act does not clearly define the conditions that constitute an emergency. Trump indicated he is prepared for a court fight, tweeting, “we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully, we’ll get a fair shake and we’ll win in the Supreme Court.”
TV-Star Jussie Smollett Staged Hate Crime Against Himself
Jussie Smollett, an actor in the TV-Series “Empire,” has been charged with planning and staging a racist hate crime in Chicago against himself. What was at first a horrific description of a hate crime, turned into a full investigation by the Chicago Police Department into Jussie Smollett and his decision to stage the incident. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, alleged he was mugged by two white Trump supports in Make America Great Again hats on Jan. 29 at 2:00 AM, after getting a Subway sandwich. He said the two men yelled “This is MAGA country,” punched him, poured a chemical substance on him, and put a rope around his neck.
Just a week prior to the mugging incident, Jussie also staged a racist letter that was sent to his production studios in West Side Chicago. He said that the letter stated, “You will die black (expletive).” It had the words MAGA printed on it and also contained a white powder, which turned out to be crushed pain reliever.
What the investigations discovered
The two men who attacked Jussie were not white Trump supporters, but two Nigerian brothers who have been featured in episodes of “Empire.” Receipts show that the brothers bought the rope at a nearby hardware store prior to the attack. The two men flew back to Nigeria after the incident, before returning after a few days. They were apprehended on arrival in the U.S. Once the two brothers began cooperating with investigators, they explained that they were paid $3,500 by Jussie to perform the mugging. Police said they have copies of the checks used.
Here’s the Timeline:
Jussie reports having received the above-mentioned letter, which was later determined to be staged.
Smollett reports that he was attacked by two Trump supporters.
Police begin reviewing hundreds of hours of street footage and release the photo of the two men who attacked Smollett.
Smollett holds an emotional interview with Good Morning America, in which he describes the incident and is visibly frustrated with those who doubt his account.
Chicago Police Department begin investigations into whether Smollett staged the hate crime.
Jussie Smollett is charged with felony disorderly conduct. Maximum prison sentence is 3 years.
Jussie surrenders to criminal charges. A judge sets his bail at $100,000, and he is released after posting a $10,000 bond. Smollett’s legal team has indicated they will refute the decision, and have maintained the incident took place as Smollett described.
What were Smollet's motivations?
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a press conference on Thursday that Smollett “was dissatisfied with his salary,” and was also frustrated that his Jan. letter did not elicit as big of a reaction as he expected. Johnson, visibly frustrated during the press conference, said that Smollett “dragged Chicago’s reputation through the mud.”
Sex Abuse Summit: Pope Francis and Church Leaders Meet at the Vatican
What is the summit?
The unprecedented summit to address sexual abuse and the protection of minors in the Catholic Church is underway. Pope Francis opened the summit by urging the Church to “hear the cry of the little ones,” and said the Church is not simply seeking “condemnation,” but rather, “concrete, effective measures.” The summit comes roughly six months after a Pennsylvania grand jury report unveiled widespread sexual abuse and subsequent cover ups in six Pennsylvania dioceses.
The summit has so far consisted of video testimonials from abuse survivors, an address from Pope Francis on the crisis, and small group discussions among the bishops. Hundreds of survivors have protested outside the walls demanding accountability.
Francis’s list of objectives
Pope Francis delivered a 21 point guide that is intended to lead the 4-day summit. Some of the proposals include having lay or non-ordained people facilitate investigations, and implementing processes to report abuse that follow canon law (the Catholic Church’s set of laws and statutes). Another objective focuses on priestly formation in seminary, suggesting it should continue throughout a priest’s life in order to “develop their human, spiritual and psychosexual maturity, as well as their interpersonal relationships and behavior.”
Francis Defrocks McCarrick Prior to Summit
The defrocking of Cardinal McCarrick last week, who was credibly accused of abuse, came as a surprise to many Catholics who haven’t seen many instances of concrete action taken by Pope Francis. Defrocking means McCarrick has lost the rights and duties of the priesthood forever, making him the first Cardinal to be defrocked.
What to look moving forward?
The summit ends on Sunday. Pope Francis is expected to deliver his final speech Sunday night, and wants to provide practical steps that bishops can implement in their home parishes and dioceses.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of Education Department data shows that six-year graduation rates for college students who receive Pell grants is on average 8.9 percentage points lower than their non-Pell grant counterparts. Pell grants are federal awards for low income families. Nationally, roughly 32% of college students are Pell grant recipients. The data is for the 2011 entering class at all public and private-nonprofit schools, where at least 50 students received Pell grants and 50 did not.
Many top colleges and universities are making it a priority to increase the number of low and middle income students who enroll at their institutions. Some are offering expanded financial aid, including funds to cover things such as “lab fees and textbooks and set aside funds for sorority dues and emergency car repairs,” writes Melissa Korn at the WSJ. If graduation rates for low-income students continue to lag, it may bring down the overall rates at some institutions. However, Dr. Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor at Seton Hall University, said the federal government typically does not punish schools for poor outcomes of Pell grant recipients. “Most of the accountability is going to be through public shaming,” Dr. Kelchen said.
Further, Korn writes, “Colleges and universities say the gaps aren’t due to weaker academic abilities of low-income students, but rather to financial and cultural challenges.”
2020 Presidential Campaigns: Bernie Sanders raised a record $6 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign, which started Tuesday. The next closest Democratic candidate was Kamala Harris at $1.5 million. Meanwhile, President Trump has raised a record amount of money for 2020, more than any candidate in history, through the first 2+ years of his presidency.
Terrorist Threat Averted: A 49-year old Coast Guard officer and self-proclaimed white nationalist appeared in court this week, after authorities arrested him for possession of illegal firearms and drugs in his home. He was plotting a wide-scale civilian massacre, with targets that included Democratic politicians and news journalists.
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The News Memo is edited by Madeline Krumel
Sources for this week’s Memo:
The New York Times
Jussie Smollett rehearsed his own assault, prosecutors say
16 states sue to stop Trump’s Use of Emergency Powers
The Wall Street Journal
States File Suit Against Trump Administration over Wall Emergency
Police Say Smollett Faked Hate Crime Because He Was Dissatisfied With His Salary
Graduation Gaps Persist for Poor Students
Jussie Smollett: Judge calls alleged hate hoax ‘despicable’
Trump seeks to recoup ‘wasted’ California high-speed rail funds
Detectives piecing together 'digital puzzle' as they investigate report of attack on 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett