This Week in Politics – April 7


Syria is a rather small country, yet it has been dominating headlines for years now and the news is never good. This week, the new coming out of Syria was particularly gruesome.

Chemical Weapons

On Tuesday, someone dropped chemical bombs on to a northern rebel-held area in Syria. Many believe that the chemical bomb attack was the work of the Syrian government and that the chemical used in the attack was sarin. Sarin is a nerve agent, one of a class of chemical weapons that affect the brain’s ability to communicate with the body’s organs through the nervous system…. The United Nations Chemical Convention, which bans the use of sarin in war, went into effect in 1997. The Syrian government agreed in 2013 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, including sarin…. According to the United States military, sarin is 81 times as toxic as cyanide. (NY Times)

At least 86 people were killed in the assault including 28 children, according to a tally from the health department in rebel-held Idlib Province, but that may not include victims sent to Turkey who have died. Some officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey have said the attack killed more than 100 people. Unicef said in a statement on Thursday that 546 people were injured, “among them many children.” (NY Times)

Trump Launches a Missile Attack

The United States launched a military strike Thursday on a Syrian government target in response to the chemical weapon attack.

The Pentagon released details on the strike, saying it was conducted using tomahawk missiles launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. “A total of 59 [Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles] targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in an official statement. “As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict.” (CNBC)

But Did He Have the Authority to Launch the Strike?

It is not clear what ― if any ― legal authority Trump is claiming to strike the Assad regime. The U.S. has claimed authority to bomb ISIS in Syria under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force by claiming that ISIS is an offshoot of al Qaeda. But there is no war authorization from Congress that could be interpreted to allow military action against the Syrian government, nor can the U.S. claim it is defending itself.(Huffington Post)

Putin Angry About Missile Strike

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin sees the strikes on Syria as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law, and under a false pretext”. Peskov claimed that Syria did not have any chemical weapons. “With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state,” said Peskov. (Guardian)

Rex Tillerson’s Words on Syria

After the strike, Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, said, “We have a very high level of confidence that the attacks were carried out by aircraft under the direction of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and we also have very high confidence that the attacks involved the use of sarin nerve gas.” He also noted the 2013 U.N. arrangement under which Syria agreed to surrender its chemical weapons under the supervision of Russia, and stated,”Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013. So either Russia has been complicit or simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on that agreement.”

On the Domestic Front

Inside the United States, it was politics as usual, Trump style.

Jeff Merkley Holds the Floor for Over 15 Hours!!!

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) started speaking on the Senate floor around 6:45 pm Tuesday night and proceeded to speak for over 15 hours. His speech was in protest of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

But Merkley couldn’t keep talking forever, even if he had unlimited endurance. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) preemptively filed a motion to end debate, known as a cloture motion, before Merkley started talking. That motion starts a clock for votes on cloture, which is one of the few things that Senate rules allow to interrupt a marathon speech like Merkley’s.

That means that while Merkley could use his speech to draw attention and as a symbolic protest, he couldn’t actually delay the vote on Gorsuch’s confirmation (and it also means that, technically, his speech wasn’t a filibuster). (ThinkProgress)

Senate Republicans Go Nuclear

After Democrats held together Thursday morning and filibustered President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Republicans voted to lower the threshold for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes to a simple majority. (NY Times)

Nunes Recuses Himself

The continuing fallout from President Trump’s unsubstantiated wiretapping allegation cost him another ally on Thursday, as Devin Nunes, the embattled Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee announced he would step aside from his panel’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to disrupt last year’s election. The announcement from the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, came shortly before the House Committee on Ethics said he was under investigation because of public reports that he “may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.” (NY Times)

Bye-Bye Bannon?

White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, was removed from the National Security Council this week and speculation was running rampant about what that meant. Both the New York Times and Politico reported that Bannon was so annoyed about this move that he threatened to quit. Rumors have been swirling also that Bannon and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, have been feuding and that Trump is dissatisfied with Bannon. (Vox)

As always, in Trumpland, there was more news than I could possibly cover in one column. Jeff Sessions is messing with police reform, Trump signed the bill to repeal our internet privacy laws, California passed a sanctuary state law, it ends up that Trump changed the terms of his trust, which already did not adequately address his conflicts of interest, former National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, acknowledged Tuesday that she engaged in unmasking Trump officials late in President Barack Obama’s term, but insisted it was not politically motivated, the United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., a judge ruled the Trump may have incited violence, the United Nations warned that Americans’ right to protest is in grave danger under Trump, and everybody in the Trump administration is stinking rich (which surprised no one).

I hope you all have a good week! Stay safe, stay sane, and stay strong!

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