The News Memo
Stories this week:
Trump to Sign Spending Bill, Declares National Emergency
The House and Senate approved a spending bill on Thursday, pushing the legislation to President Trump’s desk, with hopes of avoiding another government shutdown that would begin on February 16 at midnight. The previous shutdown that ended on January 25th, lasted 35 days, making it the longest in U.S. history. President Trump is expected to sign the bill on Friday; meanwhile, he declared a national emergency at the southern border (explained below).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the House and Senate supported the bill, along with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
What’s in the bill?
The spending deal includes $1.375 billion that would be directed to fencing and other physical barriers along the southern border. The allotted money would cover fifty-five miles of physical barriers (far short of the 1,000 miles of wall Trump promised).
The bill also includes an extra $1.7 billion in funding for more agents at the border, better technology at ports of entry, and greater humanitarian aid. Republicans resisted Democratic efforts to impose limits on the detention of immigrants being held in the U.S. Democrats were pleased that stretches of the new barrier will mostly be fencing instead of concrete wall.
Trump declares National Emergency
President Trump declared a National Emergency at the southern border on Friday morning, intending to direct more than $6 billion for the construction of the wall. The declaration, if legally successful, will allow Trump to allocate funds from other departments and bypass the need for congressional approval. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority leader said it would be a “tremendous mistake,” and Democrats are expected to challenge the declaration. It is unclear at this point if legal challenges will be successful, as national emergencies are not defined by federal law. However, Congress itself may be able to terminate a declared emergency.
Some Republicans, such as Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KT), also disagree with President Trump's decision, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for presidential power to overreach Congress.
Amazon cancels HQ2 Expansion in NYC
As you may recall, in November 2018, Amazon selected Northern Virginia and New York City as the two locations for its HQ2 (2nd headquarters), promising to invest $2.5 billion and bring 25,000 jobs to each location. The search was a 14-month publicized event, in which more than 200 cities competed to bring Amazon to town by offering billions of dollars of incentives. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio were primary promoters of the move, claiming it would diversify the city’s economy and bring needed jobs to the area.
Amazon announced on Thursday the cancellation of its planned expansion in New York City amid growing opposition from activists, union leaders, and elected lawmakers. A turning point in the process appeared to be the appointment of state Senator Mike Gianaris to a state board from which he could have vetoed the deal.
Despite the intense opposition, the announcement came as a surprise to many, as two separate polls (Quinnipiac University and Siena College) found the majority of New York City voters in favor of the expansion, 57% to 26%. Amazon attempted to allay concerns with local city council members, but ultimately decided the negative attention was too great to overcome. “A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project,” Amazon wrote on its company blog.
Some primary reasons the expansion was opposed:
Reactions to the reversal
In response to the announcement, Gov. Cuomo said, “A small group (of) politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community.” Many business leaders were disappointed with the decision, lamenting the loss of economic development. Conversely, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the newly elected U.S. Rep. from New York and a rising star in the Democratic party, said, “Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.”
What to watch moving forward:
Amazon said it will not begin searching for an alternate location “at this time.” It plans to continue growing its workforce at its existing locations. With the victory of opposition activists and lawmakers, it is possible that it will affect the expansion of other major tech companies in large cities.
Mexican Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ Convicted in New York
Joaquin Guzman, 61, was found guilty on all ten charges by a New York jury, with charges ranging from money laundering to the distribution of cocaine and heroin. Guzman was arrested in 2016, before being extradited to the U.S. in 2017. The verdict concludes an 11-week trial. He is to be sentenced on June 25, and is expected to face a lifetime sentence in a maximum-security prison.
The trial was remarkable in that it brought to light the reality of the inner workings and violence of El Chapo’s cartel, in large part due to the testimonies of key associates of El Chapo. Startling details emerged throughout the course of the trial, including:
Who is ‘El Chapo’ and why is he important?
His real name is Joaquin Guzman, but he goes by El Chapo, which simply means “shorty” in Spanish, as he stands about 5’5’’. He operated the deadly Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, the largest supplier of drugs to the U.S., where he amassed some $14 billion over the course of his reign. He has assumed something of a ‘folklore’ status in Mexico, for his extended reign and remarkable escapes. He escaped from two maximum security prisons in Mexico, including once in 2015, when he rode on a motorcycle along a mile-long tunnel underneath his prison cell. He is the highest-profile drug lord to stand trial and be convicted in the U.S., a significant victory for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Where does the Mexican drug trade stand now?
Despite El Chapo’s arrest, other drug lords have replaced him and the flow of drugs from Mexico to the U.S. continues in earnest today. In fact, during 2016 and 2017, Mexican heroin production increased 37%, and seizures of fentanyl (a synthetic narcotic) at some ports of entry more than doubled. The flow of drugs across the southern border is one of the primary reasons President Trump has cited the need for a wall. Officials say, however, that the majority of drugs enter the country through legal ports of entry.
Democrats Release ‘Green New Deal,’ Proposal
The Green New Deal announced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14th District) has turned a lot of heads in Washington D.C. and around the country. The deal, which proposes the government enact sweeping measures to cut carbon emissions, add single-payer government healthcare, and secure a job for everyone, is co-sponsored by by some major 2020 presidential contenders in the Democratic Party, including Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, announcing the Green New Deal said, “Today is a big day for people who have been left behind.”
What is in the ‘Green New Deal?’
The Green New Deal is more of vision or framework for 2030 than a specific policy. The following items are direct quotes from the 14-page proposal. It aims to achieve the following things by 2030:
"Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources."
"Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and 'smart' power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity."
Paid-Leave, Guaranteed Work
"Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States."
"Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so those communities may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization."
Reactions from both sides
Republicans characterized the plan as unrealistic and far-reaching. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said, “This Green New Deal...would be a raw deal for American families as the cost of energy skyrockets under their leftist plan.” Rep. Rob Bishop (R- UT) said the plan was “cute,” adding, “When they get serious and have something that’s practical, then let’s talk about it.”
Democrats responded to the announcement in mixed fashion; some fully endorsed it, while others remained hesitant. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, initially responded to the proposal by saying, "The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they're for it, right?" only to later say, “I’m very excited about it all, and I welcome the Green New Deal and any other proposals that people have out there.”
Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill) said, “In terms of aspirational goals, it’s lovely. I’d love to live in a world that’s totally clean and has green jobs for everyone and all sorts of other benefits. I don’t know how you get there,” he said. “There’s a real danger in leading people off cliffs before the bridge is built.”
What to look for moving forward
It is unlikely that legislation directly modeling this plan would pass with President Trump in office, a Republican-controlled Senate, and currently some Democratic opposition to the plan. Regardless of whether it becomes law anytime soon, it is likely the Green New Deal will serve as a primary campaign rally cry and debate issue in the 2020 elections. Keep an eye on that moving forward.
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The News Memo is edited by Madeline Krumel
Sources for this week’s Memo:
The New York Times
El Chapo is behind bars, but drugs still flow from Mexico
Where will El Chapo go to prison? (And What Happens Next)
Amazon Pulls Out of Planned New York City Headquarters
The Washington Post
How Amazon’s big plans for New York City were thwarted by the city’s resurgent left wing
The Wall Street Journal
Amazon Cancels HQ2 plans in New York City
El Chapo trial: Mexican drug lord ‘Joaquin Guzman’ found guilty
Amazon dumps NYC headquarters and its promised 25,000 jobs
Here's what the Green New Deal actually says