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Gordon Sondland Gives New Public Testimony in Impeachment Hearing. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified in a public hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry.
  • Notably, Sondland testified that requests made by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were “a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for [Ukranian] President Zelensky.”
  • While Sondland said he was concerned the Trump administration’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine was a quid pro quo, he also said that Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings.” 
  • Sondland also implicated a number of other high-ranking officials, saying that “everyone was in the loop.”

Sondland Testimony

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. and a key player in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, testified in his first public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday.

Sondland’s testimony shed new light on the investigation into whether or not President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian company Joe Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of.

The inquiry stems from a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress on the condition that President Zelensky conduct the investigation.

The complaint also claims that Trump refused to meet with Zelensky until after he had publicly agreed to the investigations.

Sondland’s public hearing is also important to the impeachment inquiry because his testimonies have not always been consistent. In his closed-door hearing last month, Sondland testified originally that there was not a quid pro quo regarding military aid. 

“I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” he said.

Sondland later revised his closed-door testimony after several people contradicted his deposition. Those individuals said that it was actually Sondland himself who told a Zelensky aide that the military assistance would be conditioned on the investigation.

In an amendment to his testimony, Sondland wrote that he told Zelensky’s aide “that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”

In his public testimony, Sondland restated much of the content in his closed-door deposition, but he also provided some new information.

Here is some of the new information we got from Sondland’s hearing today.

Explicit Quid Pro Quo

In his opening statement, Sondland said for the first time that there was an explicit quid pro quo regarding the investigation and the meeting with Trump.  

“[Trump’s personal attorney Rudy] Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” he said. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server, and Burisma.”

“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” he added.

However, regarding the military aid and investigations, Sondland said President Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that the Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting.”

But Sondland still said he personally had “concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid.”

Sondland Involves Key People in Trump Administration 

Sondland later said that he expressed his concerns about the military aid to Vice President Mike Pence.

“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” he said.

A spokesperson for Pence’s office denied that the conversation ever happened. 

Sondland went on to say that many people high up in the administration, including Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, knew what was going on, saying, “Everyone was in the loop.”

During a key interaction, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked Sondland if: “Mulvaney was aware of this quid pro quo of this condition that the Ukrainians had to meet, that is announcing this public investigations to get the White House meeting. Is that right?” 

“Yeah, a lot of people were aware of it,” Sondland responded.

“Including Mr. Mulvaney?” Schiff asked.

“Correct,” Sondland responded.

“And including the secretary of state?” the representative asked.

“Correct,” the ambassador answered.

Sondland also said that when he told Pompeo he was concerned about the military aid being withheld, Pompeo directed him to keep up the pressure campaign.

Trump Only Cares About Investigation Announcement

Sondland additionally said that Trump’s priority was always just to have the Ukranian’s announce the investigation, but he was not sure whether he actually cared about the investigation happening.

In a line of questioning, the Democrats’ lawyer, Daniel Goldman asked Sondland: “you understood that in order to get that White House meeting — that you wanted President Zelensky to have and that President Zelensky desperately wanted to have — that Ukraine would have to initiate these two investigations. Is that right?”

“Well, they would have to announce that they were going to do it,” Sondland responded.

“Right. Because Giuliani and President Trump didn’t actually care if they did them, right?” Goldman followed up.

“I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed,” Sondland said. “The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (The Guardian)

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Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week

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Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.


Voting Bill Set for Floor

Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.

The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.

While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.

The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.

However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.

Pathway for Filibuster Reform

Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed. 

That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.

It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.

As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).

This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.

Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)

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McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024

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The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.


McConnell Doubles Down 

During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.

“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.” 

McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.

The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.

McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.

“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.

McConnell’s Calculus

Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.

“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).

Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.

“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.

Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.

The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.

On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”

With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)

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Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico

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The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.


Texas Border Wall 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.

Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.

While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.

Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.

During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.

The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.

Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.

While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.

“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”

Ongoing Feud

Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.

Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months. 

Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.

Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.

The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.

During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.

“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”

See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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