‘a new aggression under ill-founded pretexts’
This week in Russia (and Syria)
On Monday the White House claimed that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad “appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack, and warned that he would ‘pay a heavy price’ if one took place.” On Tuesday both Syria and Russia dismissed the allegations. A Syrian official told the Associated Press “the charges foreshadowed a new diplomatic campaign against Syria at the U.N.” while a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin said that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.” On Thursday, both Syria and Russia intensified the message – in an official statement, Syria’s Foreign Ministry described the White House’s claims as “misleading” and “completely baseless,” and accused the US of trying to “justify a new aggression on Syria under ill-founded pretexts,” while a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed that Russia had “received information that Syrian rebels have already fabricated video materials to accuse Damascus of a chemical attack,” with the intention of “derailing the next round of Syria peace talks brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, which is set for next week in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.”
Three CNN employees resigned on Tuesday “after the network retracted a story about a congressional inquiry into a link between a Russian investment fund and an American financier who is an adviser to President Trump.”
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manaforte has registered as a foreign agent with the US Justice Department due to political campaign work in Ukraine, according to NPR.
Longtime Trump bodyguard and current director of Oval Office operations Keith Schiller has become a person of interest in the ongoing congressional investigation into the possible ties between Russian intelligence and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.
Don’t forget about North Korea
China and US agree on “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, according to a Chinese state media report on Saturday, released following a series of high level talks between US and Chinese officials in Washington last week. The “consensus document” also stressed “the need to fully and strictly hold to U.N. Security Council resolutions and push for dialogue and negotiation,” which, as Reuters reports, “has long been China’s position on the issue.”
On Thursday, President Trump met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in to discuss trade and North Korea.
Senate healthcare bill
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the new Senate healthcare bill predicts that up to 22 million more people would be uninsured by 2026, “with 15 million more uninsured persons in the next year alone.” The proposed bill would also decrease the federal deficit by $321 billion over the next ten years, largely through cuts in Medicaid spending, which would “hit the group of people earning just above the national poverty line the hardest,” according to the report.
After a handful of Republican senators publicly opposed or raised concerns about the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed a vote until after the 4th of July holiday, to work on a revised version. According to the Associated Press, Republican Senate leadership is considering “keeping President Barack Obama’s tax increase on wealthier people’s investments and using the money to bolster their proposed health care subsidies in a bid to mollify moderate GOP lawmakers.”
At The Atlantic, Russell Berman details the “varied and even contradictory” demands of the Republican holdouts in the Senate.
According to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, just 17% of Americans approve of the Senate's healthcare bill.
On Monday, President Trump met with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi at the White House to “build stronger ties on security, counterterrorism and economics.” In a break with tradition, reporters were not allowed to ask questions.
In an unsigned order delivered Monday, the Supreme Court “partially lifted the lower courts’ injunctions against Section 2(c) of President Trump’s executive order, which temporarily suspended visa applications from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as section 6, which froze the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and halted refugee entry into the United States.” Oral arguments in the travel ban case are scheduled to begin in October, when the Court returns from its recess. On Thursday, the partial travel ban went into effect.
Also on Monday: in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri to receive reimbursement from the state for the cost of rubberizing its playground surface. The decision, as the Washington Post reports, “was seen as a victory for many advocates [of religious institutions receiving government funding] and a blow to those who wanted to see a high wall of separation between church and state.”
On Wednesday, the White House announced its plans to nominate Brendan Carr as one of five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Carr, a Republican and the current general counsel for the FCC, would be filling one of two open seats. He’s expected to support FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s push to roll back the net neutrality rules put into effect by the Obama-era commission.
On Thursday, the House passed two Trump-backed immigration bills. The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” passed 228-195, and would “withhold some federal grants to so-called ‘sanctuary city’ jurisdictions that do no comply with certain federal immigration laws.” The other piece of legislation, called “Kate’s law,” passed 257-167, and would “increase penalties for illegal immigrants who return to the United States.”
above image: "Photo of the Day: 6/8/17," The White House / flickr