News Sips 3/23: London Terror, Surveillance of Trump, Gorsuch Hearings, and Obamacare Repeal Drama
Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the March 23, 2017 edition:
Yesterday afternoon, a man drove his car along a sidewalk on Westminster Bridge and attacked a police officer at the Houses of Parliament in London before being shot by security. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, had just finished Prime Minister’s Questions and the iconic British Parliament was full of lawmakers and civil servants.
As of this morning, there are reports of 29 people injured and three deaths. The terrorist also died. This type of relatively low-tech terrorism has become the bane of European counterterrorism forces in the past year. Both the attacks in Nice, France and a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany were conducted by an individual plowing into crowded areas with a vehicle. The attack at Parliament was also reminiscent of a thwarted terror attack on the campus of Ohio State University where a machete-wielding terrorist was shot by a police officer after the terrorist drove his car into a group of pedestrians.
Obviously, prayers and condolences are the first order of responding to a tragedy. The second order is to address the underlying cause and the symptoms that are leading to these type of attacks. Radical Islam, a view of the religion embraced, especially by the poor, in Europe has latched onto the social welfare structures of many European countries. This has led to a great deal of political strife between existing notions of an open global community against the rational security concerns and the fears that immigrants are deliberately refusing to assimilate into existing cultural norms. The tinderbox continues to grow as existing European systems are slow to change and radicalization increases. We can only hope that the governments of Europe embrace solutions related to the cause of these attacks and that the government of the United States, as well as our law enforcement, understand that low-tech type attacks need to be a focus of our counterterror apparatus.
Surveillance of Trump
In a shocking twist in the allegations of surveillance of then-candidate Donald Trump and his campaign team by the Obama Administration, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, rushed to the White House yesterday to brief the President on information Nunes had received related to the incidental collection of information, including potentially information about Trump, himself.
Nunes’ Committee had, earlier in the week, questioned the Directors of the FBI and NSA about alleged interference by Russia in the United States elections last year and the leak of information about domestic spying to the press. President Trump has said that he contends that the previous Administration engaged in a broad form of surveillance against him and his team in the lead-up to the election. This allegation had been roundly mocked and criticized from the left, and from the President’s detractors on the right. Thus, the revelation by Nunes that information about surveillance of the Trump team (or at least the fact that names and identities of individuals were not redacted per Federal law), came as a vindication to Trump’s position. Now it remains to be seen exactly what type of information was collected and whether it was done to further a political purpose of Barack Obama and his top political aides.
Judge Neil Gorsuch concluded his part of the testimony at hearings related to his nomination to the Supreme Court after two long, drawn out, days of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Today, witnesses for and against the nomination will be heard by the Senators. This will be a lot of character building and character assassination and is far-less interesting than the Judge’s answers to the questions hurled at him from all sides for the past two days.
Judge Gorsuch made it through his part of the hearing completely unscathed, despite Democrats trying to trip him up and accusing him of being a pawn of business. It’s unclear what, if anything, Democrats will be able to use, in good faith, to resist Gorsuch’s confirmation. The current avenue of attack seems to have nothing to do with the Judge, whose impeccable credentials are even admitted by the left, but rather about the President who nominated him. Democrats are expressing a level of base hatred toward the President that has so rooted them in place that nothing that comes from the Administration is getting any support.
At the moment, the schedule looks like a vote in the Judiciary Committee in favor of Judge Gorsuch should come on or before April 3rd. Then it’s up to Democrats to decide whether they will require a 60-vote threshold for the nomination to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote. At the moment, no Democrats have come out in favor of Judge Gorsuch. Republicans would need eight defectors in order to get to that threshold (nine if Georgia’s Johnny Isakson hasn’t returned from his back surgery by that point). If there aren’t enough defections, Republicans plan to scrap the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees and just force the confirmation vote.
Obamacare Repeal Vote Drama
It looks like the House of Representatives may be pushing back the timeline for a vote on the GOP leadership’s initial Obamacare repeal legislation. There were no meaningful changes to the bill in committee late into the evening yesterday which indicates that no deals have been reached between leadership, that desperately wants to get a bill through the full House, and conservatives, who see the bill as a betrayal of promises made to voters to fully repeal and replace the failing Obamacare program. Conservative holdouts number somewhere around 40 and that number is far-more than is necessary to defeat a final vote on the leadership’s current repeal plan. Buoyed by conservative grassroots and action groups telling them to hold their ground on the opposition, overtures from the Vice President, and even the President, seem to have not moved the ball towards a successful passage.
The bill was supposed to come before the full House today, but this is looking less-likely (though still an outside possibility). Rather, the bill will be help up, procedurally, through the weekend with a potential final vote on Monday. This, of course, is subject to change. The rationale here is to find some common ground between leadership and the conservative wing of the membership in order to get a bill over to the Senate. The Senate has more holdouts against the House bill and, at least privately, the President has told conservative holdouts in the House that the version of the bill passed by the Senate will be far-more in keeping with what dissenters in the House are calling for.
It would be a major failure for both Speaker Ryan and the President if a healthcare bill isn’t advanced out of the House within the next few days. However, as some conservatives see it, they’d rather go down with their principles than simply embrace the idea of passing bad legislation for the sake of a temporary public relations win.
Baltimore’s Population drops to near-100 year low: 614,000. Third largest percentage drop in the country after Chicago and Detroit.
Baltimore’s longtime Roman Catholic Cardinal, William Keeler has died at age 86.
Putin critic and former Russian MP Denis Voronenkov was shot dead in Kiev, Ukraine. Voronenkov had been cooperating with Ukrainian investigations of former Russian-allied Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.