After deciding against a run in January, billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer reversed course this week and announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for president. The former hedge fund manager pledged to spend at least $100 million of his fortune on the campaign, and he’s already poured $1.4 million into a TV ad blitz in early primary states. While Steyer is best known for aggressively pushing for President Trump’s impeachment—a cause on which he has spent more than $50 million—his campaign announcement made no mention of impeachment, nor did it explain his change of heart about running. Instead he focused on combating climate change and ending “the hostile corporate takeover of our democracy.” Steyer, 62, has been one of the country’s most prominent liberal donors since leaving his San Francisco–based firm, Farallon Capital Management, in 2012, funneling roughly $230 million to Democratic candidates.
Two massive earthquakes rocked Southern California last week, damaging roads and sparking fires but miraculously failing to cause any serious injuries. A magnitude-6.4 earthquake struck in the late morning 10 miles from Ridgecrest, Calif., a city of 27,000 about 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles. It proved to be the foreshock of a second quake the next evening, magnitude 7.1—11 times stronger. The two seismic events were the most powerful earthquakes to hit California in two decades. Phoenix and Las Vegas felt tremors, and the quakes left a fissure wide enough to be seen from space. There were 5,400 aftershocks in the first 100 hours after the 6.4 quake, and experts say 30,000 aftershocks could come by year’s end. Ridgecrest was spared more serious damage because its recently constructed buildings stand on rock, rather than the soft sediment under much of Los Angeles.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Rep. Justin Amash, the only Republican in Congress to call for President Trump’s impeachment, left the GOP this week, after saying “modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral.” Writing in The Washington Post, Amash, who rode the Tea Party wave to Congress in 2010, said that although his immigrant parents were Republican, he now felt that the two-party system “has evolved into an existential threat,” with both parties valuing winning “for its own sake, and at whatever cost.” His impeachment call in May inspired at least four Trump-friendly Republicans to mount primary challenges, including State Rep. Jim Lower, who’s already raised more than $200,000. Amash, 39, resigned from the House Freedom Caucus, which he co-founded, and lost his assignment on the House Oversight Committee. He’s reportedly mulling a third-party presidential bid, saying, “I haven’t ruled anything out.”
No pardon needed
Navy SEAL platoon leader Eddie Gallagher was found not guilty last week of the first-degree murder of a teenage ISIS captive in Mosul, Iraq, a verdict celebrated by Republicans who’d rallied around Gallagher’s case. A military jury also found Gallagher, 40, not guilty of shooting at Iraqi civilians and threatening fellow SEALs who’d reported him. Gallagher was convicted of posing for pictures with the dead captive’s body in 2017, a charge he hadn’t contested, resulting in a fine and demotion. Two witnesses said they saw Gallagher stab the victim with a hunting knife, yet one of them, SEAL medic Corey Scott, shockingly changed his account on the stand and said that although Gallagher stabbed the captive, Scott then suffocated him. Scott had been given immunity for his testimony. After the verdict, Trump, who’d had Gallagher removed from pretrial confinement and dangled a pardon, said, “Glad I could help!”
Barr’s damage control
Attorney General William Barr assailed Congress’ planned questioning of special counsel Robert Mueller, saying lawmakers want to create a “public spectacle” with the July 17 televised hearings. “I don’t think Mueller should be treated that way or subject himself to that, if he doesn’t want to,” Barr said. The Justice Department is also trying to persuade two of Mueller’s former top deputies to back out of their agreement to testify in closed hearings on Capitol Hill, and Barr said he would seek to block additional congressional subpoenas. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Barr is acting “transparently as the president’s agent,” rather than as the head of a Cabinet department. “Barr misled the public about Mueller’s report,” Schiff added, “and wants his own deception to stand.” Mueller is set to testify in back-to-back hearings before the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
Obamacare in jeopardy
A panel of federal judges voiced skepticism this week about the Affordable Care Act, signaling that they are inclined to affirm a Texas court’s decision to strike down the entire healthcare law. Eighteen GOP-led states brought the lawsuit after Congress eliminated a tax on the uninsured—the “individual mandate”; the mandate had been seen as putting the law within the sphere of Congress’ power to tax and spend. The states and the Trump administration argue that without that tax the entire law is void. House Democrats and 20 Democratic-led states insist most ACA provisions, such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions, can exist independent of the individual mandate. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision will almost certainly prompt a review by the Supreme Court, which has twice upheld the ACA.
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