After the introduction of new Western sanctions against Russia last month as punishment for its role in destabilizing Ukraine, Russia has returned fire by announcing a raft of sanctions of its own. Economists, however, are baffled at the Russian decision. While the Western sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, Russia's retaliatory sanctions will hurt its own economy even more.
Western sanctions started with asset freezes of senior officials and companies linked to the Putin regime. However, they were expanded last month to include limitations on Russian banks, as well as to halt exports to Russia of arms and high-tech oil-and gas exploration equipment.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has retaliated with a ban of "all beef, pork, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Norway for one year," according to The New York Times.
Russia is also considering banning Western airlines from flying over Russian airspace. European and American airlines currently fly over Siberia en route to various Asian destinations. Finally, Moscow is "studying the possibility of introducing restrictions on the import of planes, navy vessels, and cars."
Forbes' Tim Worstall points out the Russian retaliation is nonsensical. It is, in effect, Russia saying, "You are making us poorer by denying us your lovely imports. We shall therefore make ourselves poorer by denying ourselves more of your lovely imports."
If Russia really wanted to retaliate, it would ban exports to the West, like the natural gas exports that are a highly important for the European economy. However, whether Russia would actually do that remains to be seen — while Europe needs the Russian gas, Russia may need Europe's cash even more. John Aziz
President Trump tweeted Sunday that the GOP should change Senate rules to pass a funding bill to end the government shutdown without Democrats' help. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, has never shown enthusiasm for this "nuclear option," and he indicated through a representative Sunday he does not support Trump's idea.
"The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation," McConnell's statement said. That means it is unlikely a spending deal will be passed with a simple majority of 51 votes (rather than the present 60), as Trump hopes.
That intra-party opposition did not prevent the White House from continuing to advocate the change. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney argued on CNN's State of the Union Sunday that Trump's proposal "responds to this constant criticism we hear" that Republicans should be able to fund the government because they control both the executive and legislative branches.
"The answer is, as you've just laid out, it takes 60 votes in the Senate," Mulvaney said. "We cannot open the government without Senate Democrat support. We don't have that support, which is why we are where we are." Watch his comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian
White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says the government shutdown shows that the Senate should end the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes for a bill to pass or get Democrats to lend their support #CNNSOTU https://t.co/B1M5RNIdXI
— CNN (@CNN) January 21, 2018
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, implausibly but effectively played by a giggly Kate McKinnon in shoulder pads and facial prosthetics, visited Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update in a jovial mood to discuss his Russia investigation with host Colin Jost.
McKinnon's Mueller coyly insisted he could not discuss his ongoing probe into Russian election meddling and alleged Trump campaign collusion, but he was more than willing to offer a few hints of how well it's going. "Colin, you gotta understand, the guy didn't leave me a trail of breadcrumbs," Mueller said of President Trump. "He left me full loaves — fresh, seven-grain loaves straight from Panera Bread. I'm having a blast, man."
Watch the full skit below. Bonnie Kristian
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) removed Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) from the House Ethics Committee on Saturday in response to a New York Times report that Meehan used tax dollars to settle a case with a former female aide who accused him of sexual misconduct. Ryan also directed Meehan to repay the unknown amount out of his own pocket, and to submit to an ethics investigation.
The Times reported that Meehan, who is married, expressed romantic interest in the aide with a handwritten letter and "grew hostile" when she rebuffed him. After she left her position because of the harassment, the report says, the aide "reached a confidential agreement" with Meehan, including a settlement paid out of his congressional account.
Meehan has denied any inappropriate behavior. His office said in a statement he "has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism." Bonnie Kristian
Turkish troops on Saturday attacked an enclave of U.S.-supported Kurdish YPG militia fighters in the northern Syrian city of Afrin. After airstrikes, Turkish state media reported, ground troops entered the area Sunday. The YPG allied with the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, but Ankara considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their ties to Kurdish rebels in Turkey.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the United States will have an open-ended military presence in Syria, including ongoing support for the Kurds. Tillerson's statement angered Turkey, which is a U.S. ally via NATO. Washington asked Turkey not to attack the Kurdish forces last week. Bonnie Kristian
Saturday Night Live opened with a joint press conference by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Aidy Bryant) and Dr. Ronny Jackson (Beck Bennett), the doctor who reported the results of President Trump's physical this past week. Jackson is on hand, Sanders explains, "to come out here and tell you how not fat the president is."
"This is the president's unbiased, 100 percent accurate health assessment," Bennett's Jackson begins. "At the time of examination, the president was 71 years and seven months young. His resting heart rate was a cool 68 bpm, his weight a very svelte 239 pounds. He has a gorgeous 44-inch coke-bottle waist, and his height, 75 inches, with legs that — well, they seem to go on forever. Size 12 shoes, so you can fill in the blanks there," he continues. "It's my expert medical opinion that the president has a rockin' bod with an excellent cushion for the pushin'. And if given the chance, I would."
The real Jackson was not quite so vivid in his report on Trump's health, though he did say Trump has "incredible genes" and declared him to be "in excellent health." Read about Jackson's actual report here, and watch the full SNL sketch below. Bonnie Kristian
Vice President Mike Pence departed for the Middle East this week, proceeding with visits to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel despite the government shutdown. The trip was labeled a national security measure, the White House told Politico, to avoid shutdown-related cancellation.
In Cairo on Saturday, Pence met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who expressed displeasure with President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last year. Pence described the conversation as "disagreement between friends," saying he "heard el-Sisi out."
On Sunday, Pence spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan, who said after the Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. must "rebuild trust and confidence" in the possibility of a two-state solution. The vice president assured him the United States is "committed to continue to respect Jordan's role as the custodian of holy sites, [and] that we take no position on boundaries and final status" in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump's involvement in spending negotiations to end the government shutdown is slowing the process, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Saturday.
"I told the president we Democrats were willing to fund the military at the highest levels in history, far above even his budget request," said Schumer of his Friday negotiations with Trump, after which, he said, the president changed his terms. "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O," Schumer continued. "It's next to impossible."
Meanwhile, the president's campaign released an ad linking Democrats to murders committed by illegal immigrants. And Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that the GOP should change Senate rules to pass a funding bill without Democratic cooperation:
Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2018
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) on Sunday suggested Schumer and Trump both believe they are winning the public relations battle in blaming each other's parties for the shutdown — and in the unlikely event that he is referencing how both Congress (including congressional Democrats) and the president are very unpopular, he's right. Bonnie Kristian