The News Memo
Stories this week:
Top 3 Virginian Officials Caught in Scandal
Over the weekend, news broke that Virginia’s Governor, Ralph Northam, was identified in a 1984 medical-school yearbook photo of two students: one in a Ku Klux Klan robe, the other in a blackface costume. Northam initially apologized for the photo, but later changed his statement, saying that he was not one of the students in the photo. He did, however, admit to darkening his face to look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in 1984.
Shortly after the news spread, calls for his resignation emerged from both sides of the political aisle. At this point, Northam has resisted these calls, and is continuing to fulfill his duties as governor. Virginia’s constitution states that an elected official may be removed for “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty or other high crime or misdemeanor.” Since the photo was taken before Northam was in office, there is little officials can do to remove Northam aside from public pressure.
Following Northam’s scandal, the state’s Lieutenant Governor (second in-command behind the governor), Justin Fairfax, was publicly accused by Dr. Vanessa Tyson, professor at Scripps College in California, of sexually assaulting her in 2004. On Wednesday, in graphic detail, Tyson made public the alleged encounter (to learn more, read this article from the NYT).
Furthermore, on Wednesday, the state’s third-in-line, Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, also admitted to wearing a blackface costume in his college days. All three officials are Democrats; if they were all to resign, the speaker of the House of Delegates, Republican Kirk Cox, would assume the governorship.
What other public figures have been reprimanded for racial comments?
What is blackface?
Blackface has its origins in the mid 19th century, when white performers painted their faces black in minstrel shows to mock black Americans. The performances were meant to be humorous to white audiences, often portraying perceived black stereotypes, such as animalistic aggression or hypersexuality.
What to watch moving forward
The incident may be a source of conflict for Democrats as they approach the 2020 elections. The Democratic party has tried to enforce a hard-line when it comes to sexual harassment/assault accusations and various other actions of bigotry. They risk the perception of using a double standard when it comes to members of their own party.
President Trump’s State of the Union Address Well-Received by Viewers
President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The State of the Union (or SOTU) is a presidential address given to Congress and the American people from time to time to deliver “information of the state of the union.”(Article II of Constitution).
The address touched on bipartisan issues such as infrastructure and lowering prescription drug costs, to more heated topics including the border wall and pulling troops out of Iraq.
What was notable?
Trump to meet with Kim Jong-Un
President Trump announced that he will have a second meeting with the dictator of North Korea to continue discussions and negotiations over North Korea ridding their development plans of nuclear power. The meeting will take place in Vietnam on February 27-28. "Much work remains to be done," Trump said, "but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one." President Trump is the first President to pay a visit to the leader of North Korea.
Calls for unity
President Trump opened the SOTU with calls for unity and bipartisanship, catching many off-guard. "Together, we can break decades of political stalemate," he said. "We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions."
President Trump addressed the growing calls for socialist policies such as Universal Health Care and free college from rising stars in the Democratic party. “America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination, and control," he said. "America will never be a Socialist country.”
Border Wall: “I’ll get it built”
Mr. Trump reiterated his argument for strong border security, including a wall along the southern border. He detailed certain aspects of the wall, saying, “This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier—not just a simple concrete wall.” He also stated that the wall would be placed in areas of the southern border where border agents see the most need.
Call to Ban Late-Term Abortion
Amid recent laws in Virginia and New York state to allow for abortions up to 24-weeks, President Trump said he wants to protect “children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” and called on Congress to pass legislation making late-term abortion illegal.
How did viewers respond?
Over 46 Million people tuned in, exceeding last years ratings. According to a CNN instant poll, 76% of viewers approved of the President's message, while 24% disapproved. As can be expected, the majority of viewers were Republicans or people who generally approve of President Trump.
Among independents, 82% approved of the address, making it one of President Trump’s most popular speeches.
EU Nations Back Venezuela’s Guaido
Summary of situation in Venezuela
Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on Jan. 23rd, in opposition to Nicolas Maduro, the current president of Venezuela. The opposition says Maduro is holding office illegitimately, after winning a rigged election in 2018. Maduro’s rule has been marked by corruption, violence, and poverty, with the country currently experiencing dire shortages of basic necessities like food and medicine.
In an interesting angle to the story, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that Guaido’s declaration as interim president caught some members of the opposition by surprise. The opposition was not completely unified in its desired course of action, and debated between negotiating with Maduro or confronting him directly. Opposition leaders were not sure how the people would respond; luckily for them, hundreds of thousands have rallied in support of Guaido. Even Guaido was unsure if he would declare his presidency until the day before, when he received assurance from Vice President Mike Pence that he would have the U.S.’ support.
What happened this week?
Prominent countries in the European Union (EU), including the UK, Spain, Germany, and France, officially recognized Guaido as the rightful president of Venezuela this week. These countries had previously given Maduro till Feb. 3 to hold new, fair elections. When this didn’t happen, they quickly released statements backing Guaido. Currently, roughly half of the 28 member countries in the EU support Guaido. Others, such as Ireland and Greece have called for new elections but have not recognized Guaido.
Maduro has continued to insist the situation is a coup by the U.S. and other countries to upend his rule. When asked if the situation could result in a civil war, Maduro replied, "Everything depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire [the US] and its Western allies,” according to his interview with Salvados, a Spanish television program.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid requested by Guaido has arrived at the border of Venezuela. Currently, the aid is being blocked by Maduro’s military, and it is unclear if or how it will get delivered. Maduro has blocked foreign aid, seeing it as an attempt by the U.S. to gain influence and control.
In related news, according to Senator Marco Rubio, Guaido is expected to appoint a new directing board for Citgo Petroleum Corp., in an attempt to divert oil revenue away from Maduro.
What is Citgo and why is it important?
Citgo is U.S. based oil refinery, and a subsidiary or a daughter-company of PDVSA, the state-owned Venezuelan oil company. By appointing a new governance board, the U.S. is trying to stop the flow of oil revenue to Maduro. It is likely that any restructuring of the board will face legal and diplomatic complications.
Trump’s Inaugural Committee Subpoenaed
The Southern District of New York’s U.S. attorney’s office subpoenaed Trump’s inaugural committee for documents related to who contributed donations, how they were spent, and whether any benefits were given in exchange for the contributions during the 2017 inauguration celebrations. Under federal election law, it is illegal for foreign nationals to donate to an inaugural committee (but foreign agents who are U.S. citizens can).
The subpoena is part of the criminal investigation into the inaugural committee that was launched last year. No wrongdoing has been alleged at this point, as the subpoena is simply an initial step in the investigation. Officials have indicated they plan to cooperate with the order.
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a written order requesting someone to go to court as a witness, or it can be used to request documents as evidence in a case. It is typically issued by an attorney. Failure to comply with the subpoena carries penalties, including being charged for contempt of court.
This investigation represents one of many against President Trump. This AP news story provides a helpful summary of the current investigations:
Pope Francis Acknowledges Sexual Abuse of Nuns by Clergy
Aboard the papal plane, Pope Francis acknowledged that several nuns were subject to sexual abuse, rape, and manipulation by priests and bishops of the Catholic Church. The report, which has been circulating, proves that victims of the sex abuse crisis range from minors to nuns in the church.
It is the first time that the abuse of nuns have been publicly acknowledged by Pope Francis.
Lucetta Scaraffia is the author of the article bringing to light the abuse of nuns and religious lay women in a magazine that is distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper. “I was so happy,” she told The New York Times after hearing Pope Francis mentioned the abuse. She continued from her apartment in Rome, “Finally, now many women will have the courage to come forward and denounce their abusers.”
Pope Francis called for a worldwide conference of Bishops to specifically meet on the abuse crisis in the Church this month on February 21-24.
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The News Memo is edited by Madeline Krumel
Sources for this week’s Memo:
The New York Times
Steve King Removed From Committee Assignments Over White Supremacy Remark
Vanessa Tyson, Accuser of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Describes Assault
Trump Inaugural Committee Ordered to Hand over Documents
The Washington Post
Pope Francis confirms Catholic clergy abused nuns
The Wall Street Journal
Virginia Governor Rebuffs Fellow Democrats, Risks Undermining Party in 2020
Venezuela’s Opposition Leader Guaidó to Name New Citgo Board, Sen. Rubio Says
Trump’s Inaugural Committee is Subpoenaed for Documents
Venezuela’s Opposition Leader Guaidó to Name New Citgo Board, Rubio Says
Behind the legacy of America’s blackface
Venezuela crisis: European states recognise Guaidó as president
Trump inauguration team ordered to turn over documents
State of the Union: Trump announces second North Korea summit
Venezuela crisis: Aid lorries stuck in Colombia border city
New subpoena signals Trump’s legal woes will outlast Mueller