Posted on May 18, 2018 in Countdown

Click here to subscribe to Countdown, AAI's weekly take on news from Washington, around the country, and abroad.

Gina Haspel has been confirmed by the Senate to head the CIA. This is yet another troubling and shameful appointment by this administration, enabled by the very Legislative body that’s supposed to serve as a check to the President. We have a lot of work ahead of us! TWEET THIS

Redistricting Impact in PA Leads to Exciting Primary

This week’s election news takes us back to Pennsylvania, where party primaries were held on Tuesday utilizing newly drawn Congressional maps for the first time. The most significant outcome of Tuesday’s elections is an impending shift in Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. The delegation is currently a “Boys’ Club,” but at least one seat---that of the 5th District, where both parties’ nominees are women---is bound to be held by a woman come November. Overall, the redrawn districts have leveled the playing field, paving the way for more competitive races. Democrats are taking advantage of the new opportunities, as evidenced by the packed party primaries in many districts. Even so, it’s hard to predict what will happen in Pennsylvania’s general election. We can be certain, however, that redistricting and the surge of new candidates will shake up the status quo, and will offer a plethora of lessons as other states consider similar reforms. Finally, we must also mention the other consequential primaries on Tuesday. Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Oregon went to the polls to make decisions on who would advance in congressional and gubernatorial races. Turnout in each state didn’t match expectations, bringing up a good time to remind you: please vote in every election---they all matter!


Unholy Move in a Holy City

Donald Trump has officially moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move that’s violative of UN resolutions, morally indefensible, and politically stupid, dragging us further down the path of undermining Palestinian rights and away from peace. Trump had bigoted pastors speak at the Embassy ceremony, and at first we thought, “Yeah, that’s so inappropriate!”  But after a bit of reflection, we felt kooky, hateful religious leaders were a perfect fit for such a grotesque policy decision. Trump, Jared, and Bibi all spoke of peace and freedom, literally while Israeli troops were beating up Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem, and shooting down those demanding freedom in Gaza. Our President Jim Zogby appeared on MSNBC to talk about the remarkable contrast between privilege and lethal oppression on the split-screen showing the Jerusalem ceremony and the killings in Gaza. All of this coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, and its victims are no closer to justice today than they were 70 years ago. But however long it takes, we’re in this fight until it’s won.


Another Gaza Massacre

Palestinians in Gaza, who are living under a suffocating siege for over a decade now, where 97% of drinking water is unfit for human consumption, have risen again in protest of their unjust confinement, staging a march for return to their original homes. And if we know anything about the way Israel responds to unarmed protests, the unlawful killing of human beings was perfectly predictable, though the scale was still shocking to all. Israel’s response killed more than 60 Palestinians on Monday, including several children, and thousands more were wounded. Ambassadors from Ireland, Turkey, and South Africa were summoned, withdrawn or expelled, as the world expressed its outrage toward Israel’s actions. The Trump administration, on the other hand, praised Israel’s conduct, and blamed the Palestinians for their own deaths. Several legislators found the Trump Administration’s reaction shocking, with Senator Feinstein calling for an independent investigation into the killings, and expressing disappointment with the administration’s opposition. Senator Leahy said “the State Department should promptly determine if individuals or units involved in the shootings should be prohibited from receiving U.S. training or equipment, consistent with the Leahy Law.” That’s the right move, Senator. It’s time to hold Israel accountable, and apply the Leahy Law!


Crew of Cruelty

Early this week Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified to the Senate where she defended the policy of separating children from their families when crossing the border without authorization. This includes those legally seeking asylum. In discussing the policy last Friday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said  the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants “don't speak English. They don't integrate well, they don't have skills,” and added, “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” What does “or whatever” mean? Apparently sending all children to be held on U.S. military bases. Specifically, “four military installations in Texas and Arkansas.” The administration claims that their hands are tied. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. This callous, cruel treatment of families seeking a better life is to be expected from an administration where the President himself says of some undocumented immigrants, “These aren't people. These are animals” as he did on Wednesday. This week made clear that Nielsen, Kelly, Sessions, and Trump are willing to treat even the children of undocumented immigrants like animals, too.


Ballots in Baghdad

Last weekend Iraqis voted for the first time since Iraq declared victory over ISIL in December. The campaigning reflected an Iraq tired of 15 years of violence, government corruption, and tensions tracing the country’s ethno-sectarian divisions. The run-up to the election was not without incident, however, as violence, voter eligibility confusion, and dissatisfaction with politicians likely contributed to 44% voter turnout, the lowest turnout rate since the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance won the most votes, followed by Hadi al-Amiri's Fatah Coalition, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Nasr Coalition coming in third. In an election where many called for moving forward, it’s telling that the victors are all familiar faces in Iraqi politics. Nonetheless, as these groups jostle to form a coalition government over the next few months, there exists an opportunity to take advantage of the relative unity felt after the country worked together to combat ISIL. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a wasted opportunity.