Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Alabama Legislature Passes Controversial Anti-Abortion Bill
On May 15, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law a controversial abortion bill that would punish doctors who perform abortions with life in prison. “Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, a bill that was approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature,” said Ivey. “To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” Governor Ivey noted in her statement that the new law might be unenforceable due to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. But, the new law was passed with the aim of challenging that decision, Ivey said.
The Alabama state Senate passed the bill by a 25-6 with little opportunity for debate. The law only allows exceptions “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.” Democrats re-introduced an amendment to exempt rape and incest victims, but the motion failed on an 11-21 vote. Alabama lawmakers now lead the pack of legislators across several states who are producing measures to restrict abortion, such as Georgia’s recent fetal heartbeat bill. Many women do not yet know for sure that they are pregnant at six weeks into a pregnancy, the earliest a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Republican state senator Clyde Chambliss, who ushered the bill through the chamber, repeatedly referred on the Senate floor to a “window” of time between conception and when a woman knows for sure that she is pregnant. The state senator said he believed that time was between about seven and ten days.
Overall, the reaction to the Alabama abortion law has been mixed, with pro-life activists praising its passage and pro-choice groups similarly condemning it. Yashica Robinson, an obstetrician at the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives who provides abortion services, said the law would have a “devastating impact” on patients. She said that she was unclear under what circumstances the law would allow an abortion based on “reasonable medical judgment” and health of the mother. Additionally, 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates Jay Inslee, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand denounced the legislation as unconstitutional and as “the greatest threat to reproductive freedom in our lifetimes.” On the other hand, anti-abortion organizations groups such as Americans United for Life praised the bill, stating that the Alabama legislature has recognized that abortion is “the extinguishing of a unique human life.” Additionally, President Donald Trump similarly endorsed the law and urged the Republican Party to remain united on the issue of abortion rights.
2. Congressman Justin Amash Becomes First Republican Member of Congress to Call for President Trump’s Impeachment
Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) said on May 18 that he had concluded President Donald Trump committed “impeachable conduct” and accused Attorney General William Barr of intentionally misleading the public. Congressman Amash’s comments recommending Congress to pursue obstruction of justice charges against President Trump were the first instance of a sitting Republican in Congress saying the President’s conduct meets the “threshold for impeachment.” Congressman Amash is a rare Republican critic of Trump and previously said the President’s conduct in pressuring then-FBI Director James Comey could merit impeachment. In a Twitter post, Amash said he believed “few members of Congress even read” special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and that the report itself established “multiple examples” of Trump committing obstruction of justice. “Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meets the threshold for impeachment,” Amash said in a string of messages on Twitter.
While many Democrats have called for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump since at least the middle of 2017, many members of the Republican party have agreed with President Trump’s assertions about the Mueller report and defended his conduct at every turn. For his part, Attorney General William Barr said the Mueller Report established no conspiracy between Trump and Russia and that he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did not believe its findings sufficient to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Congressman Justin Amash’s comments concerning impeachment went further than even many members of House Democratic leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on May 16 that “every day gives grounds for impeachment,” while at the same time arguing that she doesn’t want to impeach, though she did not rule out the possibility. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), a staunch critic of President Donald Trump, responded to Amash’s Twitter thread and invited him to join her impeachment resolution.
Justin Amash, a Libertarian conservative elected during the Tea Party wave of 2010, was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a key bloc of Republicans who worked to shift the Republican caucus to the right on many issues, but in the Trump era, he has found himself breaking with his conservative allies who have embraced the President. Amash said that he made his conclusions “only after having read Mueller’s redacted report carefully and completely, having read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and having discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis.” Amash said Barr misled the public in a range of venues regarding the Mueller report, a charge Democrats and others have made repeatedly that the attorney general has disputed. “Barr’s misrepresentations are significant but often subtle, frequently taking the form of sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies, which he hopes people will not notice,” Amash said.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel criticized Justin Amash for his endorsement of impeachment efforts against President Donald Trump. “It’s sad to see Congressman Amash parroting the Democrats’ talking points on Russia,” McDaniel said in a statement.
“The only people still fixated on the Russia collusion hoax are political foes of President Trump hoping to defeat him in 2020 by any desperate means possible. Voters in Amash’s district strongly support this President, and would rather their Congressman work to support the President’s policies that have brought jobs, increased wages and made life better for Americans.” Additionally, President Trump similarly condemned Amash’s comments, calling the Congressman a “total lightweight,” and a “loser” in a Twitter post.
3. President Trump Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes
President Donald Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder, and desecration of a corpse, according to two US officials. The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day. One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said they had not seen a complete list, and did not know if other service members were included in the request for pardon paperwork.
The White House sent requests on May 17 to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which alerted the military branches, according to one senior military official. Pardon files include background information and details on criminal charges, and in many cases include letters describing how the person in question has made amends. The official said while assembling pardon files typically takes months, the Justice Department stressed that all data would have to be complete before Memorial Day weekend because President Donald Trump planned to pardon the men then.
President Donald Trump has often bypassed traditional channels in granting pardons and wielded his power freely, sometimes in politically charged cases that resonate with him, such as the conviction of the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. Earlier this month, Trump pardoned former Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna, who had been convicted of killing an Iraqi civilian during an interrogation in 2008. While the requests for pardon files are a strong sign of the President’s plans, Trump has been known to change his mind and it is not clear what the impetus was for the requests. But most of the troops who are positioned for a pardon have been championed by conservative lawmakers and media organizations, such as Fox News, which have portrayed them as being unfairly punished for trying to do their job. Many have pushed for Trump to intervene. The White House declined to comment. Pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals at once, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, legal experts said. Some worried that it could erode the legitimacy of military law and undercut good order and discipline in the ranks.
4. President Donald Trump Announces New Immigration Reform Proposal
On May 16, President Donald Trump announced an immigration proposal that would dramatically reshape the legal immigration system in the US. The plan “puts jobs, wages and safety of American workers first,” President Trump said in the White House Rose Garden when announcing the plan. “We must implement an immigration system that will allow our citizens to prosper for generations to come,” he further said. The plan does not address the pressing challenge of what to do about the estimated 11 million people currently in the country illegally, one of the core issues that has animated Trump’s presidency. The speech was notably softer in tone for a President who has often used harsh language when describing immigrants.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been quietly working on the plan for months and briefed Republican senators on the details on May 14. A senior administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition that his name not be used, said the proposal is a “good faith effort” intended to unify Republicans and start a discussion. “Right now this is the Trump plan, and we’re hoping this will become the Republican plan,” the official said. The plan would prioritize merit-based immigration, limiting the number of people who could get green cards by seeking asylum or based on family ties. But it would keep immigration levels static, neither increasing or decreasing the number of people allowed to enter the US each year legally. Trump described the current immigration system as being based mainly on “random chance,” insisting that the administration’s proposal would set more precise requirements for admission. “We want immigrants coming in; we cherish the open door,” Trump said. “But a big proportion of those immigrants should come in through merit and skill.”
The announcement comes as the Trump administration is struggling to deal with a dramatic increase in asylum seekers trying to enter the US along the southern border, creating what many are now calling a humanitarian crisis. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to go against the wishes of Congress and shift funds to build the border wall he promised during his presidential campaign. So White House aides see this as an ideal moment to try again to reshape the immigration system and enhance border security, something that requires a congressional buy-in.
Democrats are unlikely to support any immigration proposal that does not address the young people who came to the US as children and are now here illegally, known as Dreamers. President Trump moved to eliminate the Obama-era program to give them work permits and protection from deportation, and the program is now in limbo pending court action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the White House proposal, “repackaged the worst of its past failed immigration plans” and described it as “dead-on-arrival” and “not a remotely serious proposal.” The last time Trump and his White House proposed an immigration overhaul, it included a path to citizenship for Dreamers. While potentially more detailed, this proposal is less comprehensive than previous offers by Trump and his administration.