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Calls for launching impeachment proceedings are growing among many House Democrats as President Trump continues to block congressional oversight efforts by refusing to hand over documents and by barring officials from testifying. However, the issue remains divisive as the chamber’s leadership has thus far opposed the move. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has argued that focusing on impeachment could hurt the chances of Democrats in the 2020 election. She has called for a closed-door special caucus meeting this morning to discuss the issue. We’ll have more on impeachment after headlines with Congressmember Al Green.
The House Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to former White House communications director Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson, former chief of staff to Don McGahn. The panel is seeking documents and the two women’s testimonies as they investigate Trump’s potential obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.
The news came as former White House counsel Don McGahn skipped his congressional hearing Tuesday, after Trump directed him to defy a subpoena for his testimony. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler warned again that McGahn could be cited for contempt if he continues to refuse cooperation with Congress.
The Daily Beast is reporting former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tuesday about his time working for the Trump administration. He reportedly discussed his tense relationship with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and Russian interference in the 2016 election. According to a congressional aide, Tillerson told lawmakers Trump actively avoided confronting Russia over the issue in an effort to fortify the White House’s relationship with Moscow.
The Washington Post is reporting a confidential memo from the Internal Revenue Service states that Congress has the right to request tax returns and that only an intervention by the president using executive privilege can stop it. This contradicts the reasoning given by the Trump administration for refusing to hand over his tax returns to Congress, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has argued the refusal was based on the lack of legislative justification for requesting them. The IRS said the unsigned draft memo was written by a lawyer in the Office of Chief Counsel and did not represent the agency’s “official position.”
In more news from Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and intelligence officials met with members of the House and Senate for briefings on the situation with Iran. Patrick Shanahan said the U.S. had received “credible intelligence about threats to our interests in the Middle East and to American forces.” He also repeated an earlier refrain from the administration that the current U.S. strategy is about deterrence, not starting a war. He said the deterrence measures had been successful in “put[ting] on hold” possible attacks on Americans for now. Senator Lindsey Graham relayed further details about the briefing to reporters.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “They explained to us how the Iranian threat streams were different than in the past; that the attack on the ships and the pipeline was coordinated and directed by the Iranian government, the ayatollah; that we had picked up strong intelligence that they had given the Shiite militia basically more running room and direction; and that attacks against American interests and personnel were imminent.”
But Democratic lawmakers questioned the briefing, which they said did not further clarify the administration’s plans going forward. Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith warned about the risk of miscalculations on both sides and asked, “What is this maximum pressure campaign trying to achieve?”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the U.S. decision to send a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region in an interview with CNN. He said, “Having all these military assets in a small area is in of itself prone to accidents. … Extreme prudence is required, and the United States is playing a very, very dangerous game.”
In related news, Iraq said it will send delegations to Washington and Tehran in an attempt to “halt tension.” Iraq said it does not want war in the region, two days after a rocket attack in Baghdad that the United States believes may have been linked to militias with ties to Tehran. Iran has rejected the claims.
On Tuesday, reproductive rights defenders around the country took to the streets for a day of action against abortion bans. Hundreds of protests were organized to call out the wave of recent legislative attacks on reproductive rights, after Alabama passed a near-total abortion ban last week and states including Missouri, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio are attempting to enact different versions of highly restrictive bills. Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen addressed crowds outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Leana Wen: “First, Trump and Pence filled the courts with judges willing to give politicians power and control over women’s bodies. And we are looking at you, Brett Kavanaugh! And second, they started a misinformation campaign, manufacturing crises to cover up for what they are really doing, which is, third, they passed extreme bans in order to overturn Roe. Are we going to stand for that?”
In more reproductive rights news, two dozen states and municipalities have sued the federal government to block a new rule that would allow healthcare providers to decline abortions and other services for patients based on moral or religious beliefs. The Trump administration announced the plans earlier this month, and they are scheduled to go into effect in July. Under the new rules, transgender patients could also be subject to denial of care based on providers’ personal beliefs.
Meanwhile, some states are moving to protect access to abortions. In Vermont, the legislature has approved a new bill that would prohibit the government from interfering with the right to get abortions. A spokesperson for Republican Governor Phil Scott said he would not sign the bill, but it can still go into effect because of Vermont law.
Abortion rights advocates and lawmakers in Vermont are also pushing for a constitutional amendment declaring “personal reproductive autonomy” as a fundamental right.
Customs and Border Protection is halting the intake of any new migrant prisoners at the McAllen, Texas, processing center following the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died after being diagnosed with the flu. Officials say they have identified a large number of likely flu cases. Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez was the fifth known migrant child to die while in Border Patrol custody since December. Before last year, no child died in immigration custody in more than a decade.
In news from Syria, the State Department said Tuesday that the Syrian government may have used chemical weapons during recent fighting in Idlib. The State Department warned that the the United States and its allies would respond quickly and appropriately if it is determined that chemical weapons have been used.
This all comes as new questions are being raised about an alleged chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma last year. The Syrian government was accused of dropping two gas cylinders on the city, killing dozens of people. The U.S. and allies responded by carrying out airstrikes. But a newly leaked internal document from the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reveals there were conflicting views within the organization as to what happened. The leaked document suggests the cylinders were “manually placed” on the ground and were not dropped from the air. This has led some observers to conclude that the chemical attack might have been staged by Syrian rebels. MIT professor Theodore Postol responded to the leaked document by stating, “As such, 35 deaths that were originally attributed to these staged chlorine events cannot be explained and it cannot be ruled out that these people were murdered as part of the staging effort.”
Back on Capitol Hill, House Democrats grilled Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson Tuesday. Congressmember Ayanna Pressley pressed Carson on conditions in public housing.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: “There’s a Ms. Northcross, a mother and a grandmother living in Brighton, in my district. She’s raised her children and now cares for grandchildren in property with thick mold on the walls. Her son was recently hospitalized—look at the pictures here—because of bone tumors in his arm and leg. He needs surgery to save and improve his quality of life, but he won’t get it because the family must have a sanitary, stable housing condition first. Their actual home literally poses a risk of post-op injury and infection. Her question to you is: What do they become? When you raise children in these conditions, what can they become? So, yes or no, do Ms. Northcross and her family deserve and live in these conditions because they are poor?”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “If you’ve listened to anything that I have to say”—
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: “Yes or no, do they deserve to live in these conditions because they are poor?”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “Then you know very well”—
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: “Would you let your grandmother live in public housing?”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “You know very well my view on this.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: “Would you let your grandmother live in public housing? Yes or no?”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “You know very well”—
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: “Under your watch and at your helm, would you allow your grandmother to live in public housing, under these conditions?”
Congressmember Joyce Beatty asked Carson if he was familiar with “OMWI”—he appeared not to be. It stands for Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. A video of Congressmember Katie Porter questioning Carson went viral after the secretary mistakenly thought she was asking about Oreo cookies.
Rep. Katie Porter: “I’d also like you to get back to me, if you don’t mind, to explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “An Oreo?”
Rep. Katie Porter: “No, not an Oreo. An R-E-O. REO.”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “Real estate?”
Rep. Katie Porter: “What’s the O stand for?”
HUD Secretary Ben Carson: “The Organization?”
Rep. Katie Porter: “Owned, real estate owned. That’s what happens when a property goes to foreclosure. We call it an REO.”
Secretary Carson tweeted a photo of himself holding a package of Oreo cookies and sent a family-size box of Double Stuf Oreos to Congressmember Porter’s office after the hearing. Porter responded to the gift by telling a reporter, “What I’m really looking for is answers.”
The Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Daniel Collins to a lifetime seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday. Collins has defended Big Oil companies like Shell and Occidental Petroleum against communities impacted by fossil fuel extraction and the effects of climate change. He has also refused to say whether the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling was correctly decided, and has filed briefs supporting the restriction of access to contraceptives through health insurance.
In response to a recent New York Times report on the origins of New York City’s taxi driver crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would launch an investigation into the predatory practices of taxi medallion brokers. New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced her office is also initiating an investigation. We’ll have more on this story later in the broadcast.
Austin Eubanks, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine mass shooting and advocate for those suffering from addiction, was found dead in his home this past weekend. Eubanks became a public speaker on the issue of addiction after battling with opioid abuse. He said he became addicted after being put on powerful painkillers to manage the pain from gunshot injuries sustained in the Columbine massacre, in which two students killed 12 fellow students and one teacher. While no official autopsy results have been released, the Eubanks family said in a statement that Austin “lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face.”
And Roz Payne, a founding member and longtime archivist of the Newsreel Film Collective, has passed away. Formed in 1967 by filmmakers, photographers and media workers, Newsreel produced and screened films on the Columbia University student strike, the Black Panthers and anti-imperialism. Roz Payne wrote, “We decided to make films that would show another side to the news. It was clear to us that the established forms of media were not going to approach those subjects which threaten their very existence. Our films tried to analyze, not just cover, the realities that the media, as part of the system, always ignores.”