Here is a summary of the top political issues making headlines this week.
1. Trump pardons three former congressmen, other political allies
U.S. President Donald Trump used the special powers of his office to pardon 15 people this week, including former Republican Representatives Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York, who both have been given prison sentences.
Trump also pardoned George Papadopoulos, a 2016 campaign adviser who was tied up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Collins, an early supporter of Trump for president, was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison for averting $800,000 in stock market losses when he learned from inside information that a pharmaceutical company drug trial had failed.
Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing campaign funds.
Four former government contractors of Blackwater convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad that left more than a dozen Iraqi civilians dead were also pardoned.
The contractors — Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were serving lengthy prison sentences.
Former Texas Republican Representative Steve Stockman convicted of almost two dozen felonies, including fraud and money laundering, had served two years of a 10-year sentence when he got Tuesday’s pardon from Trump.
In a statement, the White House said Stockman “has underlying pre-existing health conditions that place his health at greater risk during the covid epidemic and he has already contracted covid while in prison.”
Trump also reduced the sentences of three women — Crystal Munoz, Tynice Nichole Hall and Judith Negron – for drug offenses.
d. Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election – U.S. Department of Justice
e. Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraq Killings – New York Times
g. The stories of the three women Kim Kardashian just helped free from prison – Dazed Digital
2. Padilla to be California’s first Hispanic U.S. senator, replacing Harris
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been chosen to fill the Senate seat currently held by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, becoming the first Hispanic to represent America’s most populated state in the U.S. Senate
California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that Padilla’s appointment would make history but added that Padilla “is far more interested in changing history — especially for the working men and women of our state and country.”
“I can think of no one better to represent the state of California as our next United States Senator,” Newsom tweeted Tuesday.
Padilla will serve out the final two year’s of the term Harris was elected to with the seat being up for election again in 2022.
“I’m honored, man, and I’m humbled, because of them,” Padilla said in a video talking about his Mexican migrant parents.
“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement. “He will be a Senator for all Californians.”
Harris tweeted: “Congratulations to my dear friend, @AlexPadilla4CA! Alex and I have long served the people of California together, and I know he will continue fighting for our state as California’s first Latino senator.”
b. Kamala Harris Woos Black and Latino Voters as Joe Biden’s Running Mate – Wall Street Journal
d. Who is Alex Padilla? California’s new senator has broken ground in state politics for two decades – San Francisco Chronicle
3. Trump calls for $2,000 stimulus checks for Americans
With less than a month to go in his term in office, U.S. President Donald Trump wants to put more money in American. citizens’ hands than members of Congress are allocating for economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump asked Congress to amend the nearly $900 billion stimulus bill, calling it a disgrace.
In a video on Twitter, Trump called on Congress to increase the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 and outlined a list of provisions in the overall package of legislation that he described as “wasteful spending and much more.”
“I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a covid relief package, and maybe that administration will be me,” Trump said, continuing to push the idea that Joe Biden had not won the election in a proper way.
The Washington Post reported that the Trump “video landed like a sonic boom in Washington. His own aides were stunned. Congressional aides were stunned. Stock market futures quickly slumped on the prospect that the economic aid could be in doubt.
And the implications for what happens next could be severe. If he refuses to sign the bill, the government will shut down on Dec. 29.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, tweeted that he supported larger stimulus checks, but he blamed Republicans for preventing them from being included in the bill.
“We spent months trying to secure $2000 checks but Republicans blocked it,” Schumer wrote. “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need. Maybe Trump can finally make himself useful and get Republicans not to block it again.”
Biden has said will push for a third round of stimulus checks in the next covid-19 relief bill.
Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware, that his plan will call for direct payments to Americans.
“I think you’re seeing that there is a clear understanding that these issues go beyond any ideology,” Biden said. “People are desperately hurting, and the Republicans are hurting as badly as Democrats.”
4. Museum of the Bible might sue over virus restrictions
Officials of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, said they are considering suing Mayor Muriel Bowser over new coronavirus restrictions.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the museum had sent a letter to Bowser, arguing that her orders violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.
Bowser had required museums and indoor dining in Washington to close from December 23 to January 15.
Harry Hargrave, the museum’s president, told the Post that the museum wants to “stand up for our rights” and that “we feel like they’ve been violated.”
Hargrave called the first shutdown in March “a crippling experience,” saying the museum was forced to furlough 40 employees.
The Museum of the Bible opened in 2017. It has 1,150 items in its permanent collection and 2,000 on loan from other institutions and collections
Former museum president Cary Summers said the goal of the museum is to “reacquaint the world with the book that helped make it and let the visitor come to their own conclusions. … We don’t exist to tell people what to believe about it.”
b. Facing lawsuit over restrictions on Christmas services, D.C. mayor eases coronavirus rules The Washington Post
c. Bowser Administration Imposes New Restrictions – Washington City Paper
5. Biden taps Cardona to be education secretary
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Miguel Cardona will become the next U.S. education secretary.
In picking the Connecticut education commissioner for the post, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is adding another Hispanic to his Cabinet and an educator who has filled the gamut of public school positions — elementary school teacher, principal, superintendent, adjunct professor and, starting last year, education head for a state.
“As a lifelong champion of public education, he understands that our children are the kite strings that keep our national ambitions aloft — and that everything that will be possible for our country tomorrow will be thanks to the investments we make and the care that our educators and our schools deliver today,” Biden said.
“We don’t always agree,” Jan Hochadel, president of American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, told Politico about his relationship with Cardona. “But when we don’t, we still keep communicating, very respectfully. And it’s not just teacher unions, it’s the superintendent unions, it’s everyone until we can come to some middle ground. That’s why we endorsed him. I mean, that’s the way he’s been as commissioner, and I think that’s key for the role he’s about to take.”
However Alexis Salt, an English teacher in Nevada’s Clark County School District, called the appointment “a slap in the face.”
“The big issue is that he’s not a teacher. He’s somebody who taught for a short amount of time on his way to becoming an administrator, which is not in and of itself a bad thing,” Salt told Newsweek.
a. Comparing Trump and Biden’s K-12 Education Plans – American Action Forum
6. Sanders and Amazon in a spat over workers’ treatment during pandemic
Amazon, the megagiant online retailer, which has profited greatly during the coronavirus pandemic, and Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the prominent socialist-leaning voice in U.S. politics, are in a war of words.
Sanders claims Amazon’s workers are “risking their lives” during the coronavirus pandemic to fill holiday orders while being denied benefits.
Sanders tweeted that Amazon’s “ugly corporate greed must end.”
Amazon responded by writing “everyone makes at least $15/hr *double the federal minimum wage* and we’ve created more than 275,000 new jobs in the US since the pandemic began.”
Protesters gathered outside the New York City residence of Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, earlier in December, to call attention to the millions of dollars he and other company executives are making while millions of people have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“Amazon paid $0 in taxes on $11 billion in annual profits. But it asks workers to ‘donate’ their paid leave to others who are sick,” Sanders said.
“Workers and taxpayers are expected to be generous. Corporate CEOs ‘even during a pandemic’ can be as stingy as they want.”.
a. Why Bernie Sanders isn’t happy with the world’s richest man – Economic Times
b. Amazon workers protest company’s response to pandemic – Ethical Consumer
c. How socialist is Bernie Sanders? – The New Yorker
7. Congress expected to override Trump’s veto of defense bill
If you think the clashes between U.S. President Donald Trump and Congress are over because he has less than a month left in office, think again.
Trump vetoed a $740-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense on Wednesday.
Trump said in a written message that he vetoed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, because it “fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions.”
“It is a ‘gift’ to China and Russia,” Trump said in a message to the House of Representatives.
Congress reportedly has the two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate needed to override a veto by Trump.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said he would vote to override.
“It’s simple, what this bill does,” Inhofe said when the measure passed the Senate. “It makes our country more secure, and it supports our troops who defend it.”
The New York Post reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had said beforeTrump delivered on his veto threat: “In the event that the president has vetoed the bill and the House has voted to override the veto, the Senate would have the opportunity to process a veto override at that time.”
“My intention was and is to ensure the Senate continues fulfilling our obligation to the men and women of our armed forces. I hope the president will not veto this bill,” McConnell said.
8. Dr. Fauci turns 80 with much more work to do
One of the most public faces in the U.S. battle against the coronavirus pandemic celebrated his 80th birthday on Christmas Eve.
If you have seen the fit Dr. Anthony Fauci during one of his many television appearances, you really would not believe his age.
Fauci told The Washington Post he has worked every day since January in the battle against the virus that has claimed more than 328,000 American lives.
“There is no option to get tired. There is no option to sit down and say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had enough,’ ” Fauci said. When fatigued, he recalled, he would tell himself: “I’m gonna dig deep and just suck it up.”
Any plans for celebration?
Befitting the times we are living in, Fauci told CBS Evening News Anchor Norah O’Donnell:
“We’re going to have a Zoom celebration with my wife and I in my house, and my children scattered throughout the country.”
As for the battle against the virus, Fauci said: “We have tough times ahead of us, but we need to address them by doubling down on public-health measures, wearing masks, avoiding crowds and congregate settings, keeping physical distance.”
c. During the Pandemic, the Elderly are Dying — Slowly and Needlessly and in Pain – Catholic Herald
d. Holidays in a Pandemic? Here’s What Happened in 1918 – New York Times