The News Memo
Stories this Week:
President Trump sat down this week with House and Senate minority leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer for a discussion and debate on the upcoming budget proposals, that includes $5 billion of funding for the border wall. It is the main sticking point between lawmakers, and could lead to a partial government shutdown if an agreement is not reached on the spending bills.
President Trump, in an unusual maneuver, said he would take the blame for a government shutdown, because he would be doing it for border security. “The last time you shut it down, it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security,” Trump said.
The debate was openly confrontational at many points, with Pelosi and Schumer not only pushing back against President Trump’s proposal, but also critiquing his presidency as a whole. You can view the exchange, here. While the Tuesday exchange was heated, news came later that afternoon that Pelosi and President Trump had a “constructive” follow-up phone call.
Why is the timing of this agreement important?
With the Democrats taking control of the House in January 2019, President Trump has limited time to win financial support and bring his campaign promises of a border wall to fruition. Despite President Trump’s conviction that Mexico could eventually pay for the wall through the North American Trade Agreement, the Democrats offer of $1.3 billion towards the wall still stands as of Tuesday.
What to look for moving forward
Amidst hiring a new chief of staff to fill John F. Kelly’s shoes before the end of the year and intensifying Russia investigations, some critics of the shutdown see the move as revealing government instability. Others believe that the importance of the wall to Trump’s base sends a message of dedication and party loyalty.
Although the impact of the shutdown is reported to be minimal, since 75 percent of the government’s discretionary budget is funded through next September, The Interior, Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, Transportation and State departments and NASA could be poised to send workers home without pay until the issue is resolved. While both parties are hesitant to embrace a shutdown, Trump’s fixedness may lead to a shutdown as early as the holidays.
Cohen Sentenced to 3 Years in Jail; Trump in More Legal Jeopardy
Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced to three years in jail for various federal crimes, including lying to Congress and campaign finance laws. The sentencing is a result of two separate investigations - one by the Southern District of New York and the other by Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia Investigation. The campaign finance violations involve hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who alleged affairs with President Trump. Cohen said that he made the payments out of “blind loyalty to Donald Trump” and “felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.” Prosecutors also revealed that American Media, who helped facilitate the payment to McDougal, admitted that they paid McDougal $150,000 to kill the story of her affair with Trump in order to not let it influence the 2016 election.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted that “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law...Those charges were just agreed to by him in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence.”
What does it mean moving forward?
The key issue at stake here is whether Trump knew the payments were in violation of campaign finance law and ordered them anyway. Although the WSJ has reported that Trump facilitated and had close knowledge of the payments throughout the whole process, the prosecutors must show it was done to influence the 2016 election. The campaign finance violations have no connection with the Russia Investigation.
Despite what prosecutors find, a sitting President cannot be indicted (formally charged of a serious crime). However, because the Democrats will take control of the House in January, they will be able to further investigate these issues, raising the possibility of impeachment. Much remains to be uncovered in the coming weeks as the Mueller probe concludes.
“The Loneliest Generation: Americans, More Than Ever, Are Aging Alone”
A shocking report from the Wall Street Journal this week says loneliness among the Baby Boomer generation is at the highest rate it has ever been, making it a public health threat. Studies show that about one in eleven people from the age of 50 or older, do not have one close kin such as a spouse, child, or even friends as they grow older into retirement.
Research has found that loneliness takes a massive toll on the health and well-being of people. Below are some of the consequences of loneliness:
The baby boomer generation was more individualistic than previous generations; about one in four of the Baby Boomer generation is either divorced or was never married. Donald Berwick, a former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told The Wall Street Journal, “The effect of isolation is extraordinarily powerful,” explaining further that “If we want to achieve health for our population, especially vulnerable people, we have to address loneliness.”
The Trump administration is looking to expand faith-based support programs while countries like Great Britain have appointed an official Prime Minister of Loneliness to tackle the issue.
PM Theresa May Delays Brexit Vote, Passes No-confidence Vote
Tension regarding Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) reached a tipping point this week. Although Britain and the EU reached a Brexit deal in November, it still must be approved by the British Parliament. The deal would leave the UK fairly attached to the EU, even after they officially exit the bloc. UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, delayed a vote on the proposed deal this week after support for it appeared to be diminishing.
Pushback to the Brexit deal continued to mount throughout the week, as members of May’s conservative Tory party filed a vote of no-confidence late Tuesday. A vote of no-confidence is triggered when a minimum of 48 Parliament members from the leader’s party submit a resolution that the person in power is no longer fit to hold office. Although May survived the vote, over one-third of her party voted against her, which indicates broad discontent with her leadership. May is safe from another vote of no-confidence for a year, under Parliament rules, but said she will not lead her party in the next general election in 2022.
What is Brexit?
Britain + Exit from the EU = Brexit. Britain approved a referendum vote (all people of voting age can cast ballots) in 2016 to exit the EU. Then in 2017, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was invoked, which initiates the process of removal from the EU. Once the motion was approved by the EU, it gave both sides two years for the terms and conditions of the exit to be set, which means Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
The European Union is a coalition of 28 European countries, formed after World War II as an economic trade and governance partnership. The EU operates like a single market; member countries and citizens able to travel and transport goods across borders seamlessly. Also, workers can often migrate quite easily within the EU to find jobs.
Why is PM May facing opposition?
There is deep division between the people of Britain and between lawmakers in Parliament. Many people feel like the government is going back on its promise to leave the EU. Members of May’s conservative party are worried that the proposed Brexit deal keeps the UK tied too closely to the EU. They are Brexit hard-liners, and want to ensure they are independent of the EU’s oversight.
A primary sticking point in the deal is over the so called “Irish backstop” agreement. The backstop deals with the stretch of border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and the Republic of Ireland (EU member). Both sides want the border to remain open to the free flow of goods without border inspections. However, under the current proposed deal, the whole UK would remain inside the EU’s customs area (border checks, tariffs). If no deal is reached, it is possible that a hard border between the two countries reemerges, which is something that both sides desperately want to avoid.
What to look for moving forward
Now that May survived the vote of no-confidence, she will feverishly continue discussions with EU leaders to try and tweak parts of the Brexit deal. These are some of the possible outcomes moving forward:
Yellow Vests Protests In France Continue
Quick Recap for You
Even after President Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe cancelled the fuel tax increase, the Yellow Vest movement continues to create unrest in France with violent protests. What started as a protest of the diesel fuel tax has turned into a protest of President Macron and his administration, with some calling for him to step down as president.
President Macron offered an apology and change of course in a televised statement to the people of France on Monday. In a tone of contrition to the anti-government protesters, he said, “I also know that I have hurt some of you with my comments,” and stated that not only is the fuel tax canceled but that he will be initiating policies to put more money in the pockets of the middle class by cutting taxes and increasing the minimum wage. He also stated that he will meet with Mayors across the country in order to “take the pulse of the country.”
Some of his proposed policy changes in 2019 include:
What has been the reaction to Macron’s proposals?
The reaction to President Macron’s televised response has been mixed. Some people responded positively to the announcement, saying it is a good first step, while many more say the policy changes do not do nearly enough to help the economic situation of the poor.
Why is there so much unrest in France?
France, like much of the west, is facing some significant unrest, which many say is attributable at least in part to rising populist sentiments. The people in France feel as if Macron is a President for the rich and is out of touch with the common people. Similar populist strains can be seen in Britain and Germany as well. In Britain there is frustration over Theresa May and the Brexit proposal, and in Germany, many people are frustrated with Chancellor Angela Merkel and the loose immigration policies that were in place during previous years.
What is populism?
Populism in its most basic sense is a framework that pits “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite,” as defined by Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. It often looks different depending on the country, because it is not limited to one side of the political aisle. As it is seen today primarily in Europe and the U.S., it often carries with it anti-immigration (think Syrian refugees) and anti-globalism (tariffs, Brexit, for example) sentiments. Many scholars point to the 2008 financial crisis as a key event that has spurred the recent rise in populism, because the financial collapse pitted a select group of wealthy bankers against a mass of people that lost considerable wealth.
The News Memo is Edited by Madeline Krumel
Sources for this week’s Memo
The New York Times
Macron, Confronting Yellow Vest Protests in France, Promises Relief
Playing by His Own Rules, Trump Flips the Shutdown Script
The Wall Street Journal
Theresa May Survives Leadership Test, but Brexit Path Unclear
The Loneliest Generation: Americans, more than ever, are aging alone
Cohen Sentencing, Tabloid Deal Intensify Spotlight on Trump
Brexit: all you need to know about the UK leaving the EU
Trump ‘I never directed Michael Cohen to Break the Law’