On Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature called a surprise fourth special session, just after finishing a third special session to approve $200 million in disaster relief. By Wednesday night, Republicans had filed a raft of bills that would significantly curb the power of incoming Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who narrowly defeated Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in November; McCrory finally conceded the race last week, and Cooper doesn't take office until Jan. 1, 2017. Democrats did not know about the new special session, approved Monday, until noon on Wednesday.
The GOP bills would end the governor's control over state and county election boards, require State Senate confirmation of Cooper's Cabinet appointees, strip him of authority to name trustees to the University of North Carolina, and cut to 300 from 1,500 the number of state employees who serve at the governor's pleasure, giving protection to hundreds of upper-level state employees appointed by McCrory, reversing an expansion McCrory approved right after he took over from his Democratic predecessor. Many of the election boards that would now have a bipartisan spilt had cut voting hours, polling locations, and Sunday voting when controlled by Republicans, measures all criticized as aiming to suppress black turnout.
Democrats had expressed concern that the GOP legislature would try to add two Republican justices to the Supreme Court, which flipped to a Democratic majority in the election, but instead Republicans filed a bill that would shift power from the Supreme Court to the GOP-majority Court of Appeals. "This is an unprecedented, shameful, and cowardly power grab from the Republicans," Jamal Little, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said of the GOP bills. Cooper was more restrained, urging lawmakers to, among other things, repeal HB 2, the transgender "bathroom" bill.
#NCGA should focus on higher teacher pay, better wages for working North Carolinians and repealing HB 2.
— Roy Cooper (@RoyCooperNC) December 15, 2016
Republicans did not exactly deny the power-grabbing accusation. "I think, to be candid with you, that you will see the General Assembly look to reassert its constitutional authority in areas that may have been previously delegated to the executive branch," Rep. David Lewis (R) told reporters, adding that "some of the stuff we're doing, obviously if the election results were different, we might not be moving quite as fast on." Republican legislators, he added, will "work to establish that we are going to continue to be a relevant party in governing the state." Peter Weber
The World Health Organization (WHO) came under intense criticism Saturday for its decision to name Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as the organization's newest goodwill ambassador. The position is mostly symbolic, but the 93-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, is widely considered a dictator, and his government stands accused of gross human rights violations.
"The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong," said Dr. Jeremy Farrar of Wellcome Trust, a prominent British health charity. "Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for."
WHO's Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Mugabe was chosen because his government "places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all," but outside observers say the Zimbabwean health-care system is in "a shambolic state" with hospitals lacking "the most basic necessities." Bonnie Kristian
President Trump is considering further revisions to refugee admission procedures, Reuters reported Friday evening, including a plan to suspend a program that allows refugees to settle with family members already living in the United States. In the new proposal, incoming refugees would be delayed by additional scrutiny before being admitted to rejoin their families.
Also on the table is increased use of security advisory opinions (SAOs) for refugees coming from high-risk countries. SAOs are in-depth security checks that are currently mandatory for male refugees from some countries; the new plan would apply them to women as well. Refugee fingerprinting requirements may be expanded, too.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday announced Madrid will remove Catalan President Carles Puigdemont from his position, suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy, and impose direct national rule to suppress the Catalan independence movement.
This is an unprecedented step under the current Spanish Constitution. Rajoy is invoking the document's Article 155, which says if a region "acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain," the national government can, with majority Senate approval, "take all measures necessary" to stop it.
Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras labeled the move "totalitarianism," and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau called it "an attack on everyone's rights and freedoms." Puigdemont led a large protest in Barcelona Saturday afternoon.
In a referendum earlier this month, 90 percent of Catalans who turned out to vote endorsed independence from Spain. The vote was held despite intense opposition from Madrid, including widespread reports of police brutality against would-be voters. Catalan leaders have sought international assistance to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but so far their calls have gone unanswered. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump indicated on Twitter Saturday he will most likely release 3,600 top-secret files about the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy this coming week, with the caveat that new information could lead him to change his mind:
Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017
The Oct. 26 release deadline was set by a 1992 law. Trump can miss that deadline if he certifies that publishing the papers at that time would cause "an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure." Members of both houses of Congress from both major parties have sponsored legislation urging Trump to go ahead with publication. Bonnie Kristian
Georgia state Rep. Betty Price (R), who is an anesthesiologist and the wife of former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who resigned last month, asked in a committee hearing Tuesday whether some sort of quarantine of people with HIV might be a viable option for limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Price's comments come as the surgeon general reports a new HIV epidemic could be brewing in places like Georgia.
"If you wouldn't mind commenting on the surveillance of partners, tracking of contacts, that sort of thing — what are we legally able to do?" Dr. Price asked Dr. Pascale Wortley, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Surveillance Section. "I don't want to say the 'quarantine' word, but I guess I just said it," she added, noting that "public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition, so we have a public interest in curtailing the spread."
Wortley replied that Georgia already has a program called "Partner Services that involves talking to people who are newly diagnosed with HIV and asking them to list out partners" so either the patient or a public health worker can contact them. Watch the rest of the exchange below; the relevant section runs from around 1:02:00 to 1:05:30. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump spoke at length about his social media habits in a Friday transcript of a forthcoming interview with Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo. He said his Twitter account is an important way to spread his views, manipulate lawmakers, and keep the public's attention — among other purposes. The interview will air on FBN Sunday and Monday, but in the meantime, read below seven of Trump's most noteworthy Twitter-related comments from the conversation. Bonnie Kristian
1. "Tweeting is like a typewriter — when I put it out, you put it immediately on your show."
2. "You have to keep people interested."
3. "You know what I find; the ones [who] don't want me to [tweet] are the enemies."
4. "I was in a faraway land, and I was tweeting. And I said very little. I said, like, 'I'm in Italy right now,' you know, for the summits. So, 'I'm in Italy right now and the weather is wonderful.' And one of the dishonest networks said, 'Donald Trump is on a Twitter stomp again.'" (See the Italy tweets here.)
5. "When somebody says something about me, I am able to go 'bing, bing, bing' and I take care of it."
6. "I doubt I would be [president] if it weren't for social media, to be honest with you."
7. "[My tweets] are well crafted. I was always good student." [Donald Trump, via FBN]
After the Senate on Thursday approved the GOP budget plan 51-49, House Republicans are considering whether to pass the Senate version as-is to accelerate their tax reform agenda. "There's a very clear possibility that the House clears this next week," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said of the Senate legislation Friday.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus on Friday agreed to back the Senate bill if House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will first pledge to schedule a floor vote on taxes by the second week in November. Ryan has said he intends to complete tax reform by "early November," but many on the Hill consider that schedule deeply unrealistic.
President Trump addressed the situation on Twitter Friday and Saturday, decrying Democratic opposition, complaining of inadequate media coverage, and promising historic tax cuts soon. "Budget that just passed is a really big deal, especially in terms of what will be the biggest tax cut in U.S. history," he wrote Saturday morning. "MSM barely covered!" Bonnie Kristian