US President Donald Trump announces that the United States recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)
The President ticked a box, fulfilled a promise, made several Republicans happy and put a big smile on the Israeli prime minister’s face when he announced that he will move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as well as recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital:
It’s a move that the President had promised to deliver from way back when he was just candidate Trump.
It’s also something that many Presidents have said they’d do but haven’t — and it’s largely supported by the Washington Establishment.
The White House says it’s merely a recognition of reality and while it will cause some disagreement, leaving the embassy where it is will not lead to peace in the Middle East.
The reaction was swift. The UN and leaders from around the world denounced the decision and US embassies and consulates were put on high alert:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says the decision is a reward to Israel that encourages continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories, and that the US can no longer be a mediator in the peace process.
Remember that the Trump Administration has promised to solve the intractable problem and has tasked the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner with making Middle East peace happen.
This won’t help. Much as the pragmatists would argue that Jerusalem is already operating as Israel’s capital in practical terms, that’s far from agreeable to the Palestinians who will no longer accept America as an honest broker. More analysis on this here and here.
As an aside, there was also this strange deterioration in the President’s speech as he made the announcement. The White House says he merely had a dry throat.
The attention on the international front overshadowed ongoing turmoil for the Trump Administration at home.
Namely, the old Russia chestnut.
After the guilty plea from disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn last week (here’s one I prepared earlier), the President unleashed on Twitter over the weekend — defending Flynn, and hurling abuse again at the FBI:
@realdonaldtrump tweet: “I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
Once again, the law enforcement body had to defend itself from the Commander-in-Chief, but much of the focus was firmly on the words in Donald Trump’s tweet and whether it opens him up to potential obstruction of justice charges.
Defenders of the President say a POTUS can’t be charged with obstruction of justice.
The official line of defence out of the White House was that the President didn’t write the tweet:
@acosta tweet: “WH attorney Ty Cobb statement on Flynn: ‘Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.'”
Read that tweet again and make up your own mind.
Meanwhile, here’s your weekly instalment of the NY Daily News front page:
Mr Flynn’s behaviour in the lead-up to Donald Trump taking office was questionable to say the least.
However, a new report from the New York Times suggests that Flynn sent a text message to a former business associate literally during Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration that Russian sanctions would be “ripped up” as one of the incoming administration’s first acts and that a project in which his business partner would work with Russians to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East would be “good to go”.
A separate report, that Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in 2016 has expanded to include the President’s personal finances at Deutsche Bank, has been denied by the White House.
There’s also this murky story about FBI agent Peter Strzok who was sacked by Mueller over anti-Trump texts. Amazingly, Strzok not only led the Hillary Clinton email investigation (apparently changing the description of her behaviour from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless”), he also interviewed Michael Flynn as part of the Russia probe. He’s now at the centre of a campaign against the credibility of the Mueller probe.
It continues to distract from the President’s domestic agenda — including the passage of the Republican tax bill through the Senate at 2am on Saturday morning.
The bill caused hysteria among Democrats who received the nearly 500-pages just hours before the vote:
@SenatorTester tweet: “I was just handed a 479-page tax bill a few hours before the vote. One page literally has hand scribbled policy changes on it that can’t be read. This is Washington, D.C. at its worst. Montanans deserve so much better.”
Mikel Jollett tweet: “They just handed out the text of the Republican tax bill. It’s is 479 pages long. They’re voting on it TONIGHT. It’s got HAND-WRITTEN pages. It creates a TRILLION dollars of debt. There were NO public hearings.”
It resulted in rallies across parts of America. While a legislative victory for the Trump Administration, it may not prove to be a political win, with large swathes of the American electorate sceptical about whether it bill will help them.
Sexual assault allegations continued…
Sexual assault allegations took down Senator Al Franken, albeit this time weeks after the initial allegations.
What triggered the move was a combination of fresh allegations and his female colleagues in the Senate deciding to speak out forcibly against him.
The calls for his resignation piled up from within his own party. All told, 32 senators called for his resignation, and party leaders like Chuck Schumer joined the chorus.
He was one of two high-profile Democrats to decide to depart this week. The other, John Conyers, was one of the oldest members of the House, serving as a representative from Michigan for 52 years.
BuzzFeed first revealed in late November that Mr Conyers had settled a sexual harassment claim from a female staffer in 2015 using taxpayer funds. Mr Conyers resisted resigning for some time but, like Mr Franken, pressure from within his own party proved too much:
@tamarakeithNPR tweet: “Here’s @RepJohnConyers official retirement letter. He calls it a retirement here as well, though effective today.”
The resulting resignations are a calculated move by Democrats to take back the moral high ground after sexual assault and misconduct allegations failed to force Republicans to eject Donald Trump and more recently Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
This from Al Franken’s resignation speech:
@kylegriffin1 tweet: “Franken: ‘There is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.'”
On that; having withdrawn funding for Roy Moore in his Alabama Senate race, Republicans decided to dive back in with just a week to go.
That coincided with a softening from Republican leaders including Mitch McConnell about whether Roy Moore should be running for office.
The man at the front end of the Trump Resistance within the Republican Party, Senator Jeff Flake, went so far as to donate to Roy Moore’s rival’s campaign:
In other news this week
- The President reversed another Obama legacy item, shrinking the size of the Bears Ears National Monument by 1.3 million acres. The decision has resulted in multiple lawsuits against the Administration: one from the Navajo Nation and another from outdoor clothing label Patagonia
- The Supreme Court weighed its options in a controversial case, where a gay couple sued a Coloradan cake maker for refusing to bake their wedding cake. The court is weighing the First Amendment rights of the baker as well as the discrimination against the gay couple. The decision may take months to reach, but this week we had some weird insights from the justices about their feelings on wedding cakes
- The first impeachment proceedings against the President in the House of Representatives failed this week. The vote was 365-58
Now, courtesy of The Daily Show, some of the President’s “best words”
In some happy news, “The Bogan From Belmont” who I met a couple of weeks ago after he won the election to be Mayor of Annapolis was sworn into office this week:
@joshuamckerrow tweet: “Mayor Gavin Buckley marches to the Annapolis inauguration with his family”
Not to be too upbeat though, there’s also this:
Thinking of those in California!
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