- A memorandum of a conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden.
- The phone call took place a week after Trump ordered a hold on aid to Ukraine. Trump does not mention this hold but does say that the United States is “very very good to Ukraine” in comparison to other countries and that he “wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal.”
- Some believe this could be interpreted as Trump using aid as leverage to receive a favor in a form of quid pro quo, but others argue that quid pro quo is not made explicit in the document.
- This memo has many Democrats more eager to impeach the president after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an inquiry Tuesday. Many Republicans, however, do not believe the conversation shows serious wrongdoing.
White House Released Memorandum
President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden during a phone call, a newly released memorandum shows.
The White House released the memorandum Wednesday of Trump’s July 25 conversation with the Ukrainian leader. The memorandum is essentially a rough transcript of their call, which according to the White House is “based on notes and recollections… by policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation.”
Trump promised to release transcripts of this talk after a whistleblower complaint alleged he encouraged Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Outrage over the phone call escalated Tuesday when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opened an impeachment inquiry into the matter.
“The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great, ” Trump said to Zelensky during their conversation. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”
Trump initially denied every saying anything “inappropriate” to a foreign leader, then eventually did admit to bringing Biden up during his talk with Zelensky. After doing so, he claimed he had a right to mention Biden.
Now that the impeachment inquiry is open, Democrats leading the charge were anxious to see what this memo would reveal. While it did confirm that Trump brought up probing a political opponent to a foreign leader, it did not explicitly confirm a quid pro quo, which is giving a favor with the expectation of getting something in return.
Just a week before their talk, Trump ordered a hold on almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. He did not bring this aid up during their conversation, however, he did insist that the United States was a strong ally to Zelensky’s country, though the favor may not be “reciprocal.”
“I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing,” Trump said.
“But the United States has been very very good to Ukraine,” he later added. “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.”
While a quid pro quo was not made explicit, many see this as Trump potentially holding assistance from the U.S. over Zelensky’s head.
Washington Post writer Aaron Blake explained its context with this metaphor:
“It’s difficult to see how Zelensky could interpret that set of circumstances as something other than a strong suggestion and even a veiled threat,” Blake wrote. “It’s equivalent to your boss repeatedly suggesting you do something — while noting what your compensation is — without explicitly making a demand. What are you going to do: believe it to just be a gentle suggestion? No, you’re going to think there could be some relation between your pocketbook/job status and your future actions.”
The fact that a quid pro quo is not directly in the memorandum does not foil the Democrat’s plan to impeach. The president still asked a foreign leader to look into Biden, a 2020 frontrunner. Democrats are also anticipating more information to come out in the whistleblower’s complaint, which was given to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on Wednesday afternoon.
Mention of Robert Mueller
Another passage that caught the public’s eye from the memorandum is one that referenced Robert Mueller. Zelesnky mentioned potentially buying Javelins from the U.S. Trump then asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” before mentioning Crowdstrike– the company that analyzed the DNC hack in 2016.
The context and details around what he says are very vague. He says he knows the Ukraine “knows a lot about it” before mentioning the company and then asks Zelensky to “get to the bottom of it.”
He then brings up Mueller’s testimony to Congress, which took place just one day before their phone call.
“As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” Trump said.
While what Trump is specifically saying is unclear, reports indicate that this could be related to efforts to get to the root of the Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. Trump, his lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and other Republicans have a theory that Ukraine may have been connected to the DNC hack and its servers.
Zelensky seemed receptive to what Trump was saying.
“Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier,” Zelensky said.
Reactions to Memorandum
After the memorandum was released, Democrats who were already behind impeachment found a new fire ignited within them.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted about the news, claiming she was surprised the White House released the memo at all.
“The President sought to use the powers of the United States government to investigate a political opponent. We have no choice but to impeach,” she wrote.
Pelosi released a statement about the news.
“The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad,” she said. “I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job. It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the memo “reads like a classic mob shakedown.”
On the other side, however, Republicans thought the call did not show the president committing any serious wrongdoings.
“Wow. Impeachment over this?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote. “What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger.”
President Donald Trump has also defended himself. He retweeted Fox News Anchor Bret Baier pointing out the lack of direct quid pro quo.
He also spoke on Wednesday calling this “the single greatest witch hunt in American history.”
“The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell,” Trump said. “It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, ‘I never knew you could be so nice.’”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Fox News) (Wall Street Journal)
Biden Policy Pushes for Electric Cars To Make Up Half of U.S. Auto Sales by 2030
While the country’s largest automakers have signed onto the plan, experts say the goal will be difficult to achieve.
Biden’s Car Emissions Plan
President Joe Biden unveiled a new multi-pronged policy Thursday aimed at reducing vehicle emissions that has been described as one of his administration’s most significant efforts to combat climate change so far.
The first part of the plan directs relevant agencies to restore and strengthen mileage standards that were implemented by former President Barack Obama but rolled back under former President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration estimated that its own standard would lead cars produced during the term of the rule to emit nearly a billion more tons of carbon dioxide and consume around 80 billion more gallons of gas over their lifetime.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the U.S., composing around 29% of the country’s total emissions.
As a result, the second part of Biden’s new plan aims to address a more long-term goal through an executive order that sets a new target to make electric cars half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.
A White House factsheet published Thursday morning outlined a series of proposals for the president to achieve his goal, which included:
- Installing a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.
- Implementing consumer incentives to encourage manufacturing and union jobs.
- Funding changes and expansions to domestic manufacturing supply chains.
- Developing new clean technologies.
The 2030 target is voluntary, but America’s “Big Three” automakers — Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) — issued a joint statement announcing “their shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles by 2030.”
The United Auto Workers union has also backed the plan, though it said it was more focused on ensuring its members maintained jobs than it was on setting specific goals and deadlines.
While the plan has the backing of major auto industry players, there are still many hurdles. Experts say it is impossible for electric vehicles to become half of all cars without making electric charging stations as common as gas stations.
But the bipartisan infrastructure plan that Congress and Biden have painstakingly negotiated for months only includes $7.5 billion for vehicle chargers — just half the price tag the president initially called for to build 500,000 recharging spots.
Given the stalemate in Congress, as well as the significant lobbying power of Big Oil, it is unclear how much can be achieved legislatively.
Even key members of Biden’s own party have expressed hesitancy.
For example, a budget plan recently proposed by Democrats includes provisions that would provide new tax breaks and subsidies for buying electric vehicles. Democratic leaders have said they want to pass the budget through reconciliation, meaning they only need a simple majority and thus will not require any Republican votes.
However, in order to do so, the party needs all 50 senators to agree to the package. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who recently said he has “grave concerns” about Biden’s desired speed to adopt electric vehicles, has already signaled that he will not support increased subsidies for the cars.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.