May 22, 2019

On Monday, the Republican majority in Tennessee's state House voted 45-24 in favor of a historic vote of no confidence in House Speaker Glen Casada (R), following a series of scandals including sexually explicit text messages about women he exchanged with his male former chief of staff. Casada said he won't resign. In neighboring Mississippi on Tuesday, it was House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) who called for the resignation of a member of his caucus, Rep. Doug McLeod (R), arrested on Saturday on allegations he punched his wife because she didn't undress quickly enough when he wanted to have sex.

"I have attempted to contact Rep. McLeod to request his resignation, if in fact, these allegations are true," Gunn said in a statement. "These actions are unacceptable for anyone."

According to a report from the George County Sheriff's Department, when deputies knocked on McLeod's door in Lucedale on Saturday night, the lawmaker was visibly drunk and holding an alcoholic drink. When they said they were there responding to reports of a domestic assault, the deputies reported, McLeod said, "Are you kidding me?" The report says McLeod's wife had a bloodied nose and there was blood on the bed and bedroom floor, and a second woman told the deputies she had locked herself and the wife in her room after the incident, McLeod had pounded on the door, and when she refused to open it, he had threatened to "kill her [expletive] dog."

McLeod, arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, "is free on bail," and "he didn't immediately respond to requests for comment," The Associated Press reports. "The 58-year-old McLeod has represented George and Stone counties since 2012. He's unopposed for re-election this year." Peter Weber

May 14, 2019

Yleem Poblete, a prominent Iran hawk, is resigning as assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, The Washington Post reported Monday night, citing U.S. officials and congressional aides. The State Department didn't offer an explanation for Poblete's departure, but she has repeatedly clashed with her boss, Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson, the Post reports.

Poblete's views are much more closely aligned with National Security Adviser John Bolton than with Thompson's, former national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, the Post reports. One high-profile clash between Poblete and Thomson was over the State Department's report in April on compliance with arms control accords.

Poblete's office writes the report, and Reuters reported in April that U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials were "concerned that the document politicizes and slants assessments about Iran," raising fears that "the administration was painting Iran in the darkest light possible, much as the George W. Bush administration used bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq." Poblete had unconventionally "sought to include information such as news stories and opinion pieces in the report," two sources told Reuters.

The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, reimposed punitive sanctions, designated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East to counter a purported Iranian threat, and ordered a revised plan to send up to 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to fight Iran, The New York Times reported Monday night. There have been other signs that the Trump administration hasn't been listening to impartial analysis on Iran.

Poblete's vacancy will leave a hole as the U.S. deals with major arms control threats, but some nonproliferation experts argued she wasn't helping advance arms control, anyway. Peter Weber

April 29, 2019

U.S. Southern Command said Sunday that Navy Rear Adm. John Ring has been relieved of duty as commander of the task force that runs the Guantanamo Bay prison camp "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command." The head of Southern Command, Adm. Craig Faller, informed Ring of his firing on Saturday at the command's headquarters in Florida. Ring's deputy, Brig. Gen. John F. Hussey, replaced him as acting commander.

Ring took command of Guantanamo Bay in April 2018 and had been scheduled to rotate out of the assignment the week of June 11. Col. Amanda Azubuike, a spokeswoman for the Southern Command, said Ring was fired after a month-long investigation that began in mid-March; she declined to give details. He "will be temporarily assigned duties elsewhere" in the Southern Command, Azubuike said.

Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. prison camp on Cuba opened in 2002, held nearly 700 detainees at its peak in mid-2003. It now holds about 40 detainees. There are also 1,800 military and civilian personnel at the base. Peter Weber

April 12, 2019

The Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as interior secretary on Thursday by a vote of 56 to 41. The former oil and gas lobbyist had been acting secretary since Jan. 2, and before that he was deputy to his predecessor, Ryan Zinke. The Interior Department manages nearly half a billion acres of public lands. Most Democrats voted against Bernhardt, pointing to his previous work representing many of the oil companies and water utilities he is now in charge of regulating, as well as his policies at Interior, which they say have favored industry and weakened protections against threatened species.

Republicans noted that he had extensive experience at Interior, including as the department's solicitor under former President George W. Bush. Before Thursday's vote, Zinke held a 40-year record for the highest number of "no" votes — 31 — for an interior secretary's confirmation, the liberal Center for American Progress notes. Peter Weber

April 5, 2019

The White House sent Congress paperwork Thursday night to withdraw the nomination of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement director Ron Vitiello, who will remain acting ICE director until President Trump picks a new nominee, The Associated Press reports. Vitiello had been scheduled to travel to the California-Mexico border with Trump on Friday, but on official told AP that Vitiello is no longer going.

"One Homeland Security official insisted it was nothing but a paperwork error that had later been corrected," AP reports. "But other, higher-level officials said the move did not appear to be a mistake, even though they were not informed ahead of time."

Vititello began his law enforcement career with the U.S. Border Patrol in 1985, and he had risen to Border Patrol chief when Trump tapped him to be acting ICE head in June 2018. Trump nominated him as permanent director in August, he had his Senate confirmation hearing in November, and he'd cleared one of two committees. ICE is charged with enforcing immigration law inside the U.S., including arresting immigrants in the country without permission. Peter Weber

February 20, 2019

On Tuesday, lawyers representing Kentucky high school student Nicholas Sandmann and his parents filed a federal defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post, seeking $250 million in damages. Why $250 million? That's what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for the Post in 2013. The lawsuit accuses the Post of publishing "no less than six false and defamatory articles" on a standoff in Washington, D.C., last month between Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High classmates, a group called the Black Israelites, and Native American advocate Nathan Phillips.

Among the Post's allegedly defamatory actions was quoting a statement from the Covington Catholic dioceses criticizing the students, reporting that Phillips said he felt threatened and heard the students chant "build the wall," describing Sandmann's facial expression as "a relentless smirk," and printing the "gist" that Sandmann "assaulted and/or physically intimidated Phillips" and "instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct."

Over three days in January, "the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child," the complaint alleges. "The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president." The lawsuit was not filed to "further a political agenda," Sandmann's lawyers added.

One of the questions the court will decide is whether Sandmann was a private figure or a limited-purpose public figure who participated in a public march and sought publicity on his own, Jon Fleischaker, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. And Sandmann's lawyers will have to cite verifiable facts, not opinions. "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense," said Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti Kelly. Peter Weber

January 28, 2019

On Sunday, the Treasury Department lifted sanctions on three companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including the world's No. 2 aluminum company, Rusal. Deripaska is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former associated of Paul Manafort, President Trump's jailed former campaign chairman. Deripaska himself will remain under sanctions, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said, and his companies have "agreed to unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations." Along with Rusal, the sanctions were lifted on En+ Group and EuroSibEnergo.

The House voted overwhelmingly to block the Treasury from lifting the sanctions on Deripaska's companies, with 136 Republicans joining the Democrats, but the bill failed to get 60 votes in the Senate, even though 11 Republicans voted in favor. "This represents just one more step in undermining the sanctions law, which President Trump has obstructed at every opportunity, while Russian aggression remains unabated," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Last week, The New York Times reported that the Treasury agreement actually helps Deripaska financially.

As part of the negotiated settlement, Deripaska agreed to cede control of all the companies, and on Sunday, En+ — the parent company of Rusal and EuroSibEnergo — announced seven new independent board directors, including Christopher Burnham, chairman of Cambridge Global Capital LLC and a member of Trump’s presidential transition team at the State Department. Rusal also said its chairman, Jean-Pierre Thomas, has resigned. Peter Weber

January 2, 2019

On Tuesday, more than three dozen pharmaceutical companies raised prices on hundreds of drugs in the U.S., and Allergan led the way, raising prices on 27 medicines by just under 10 percent, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing an analysis from Rx Savings Solutions. The average increase in drug list prices was 6.3 percent, and both brand-name drugmakers like Allergan and generics makers like Hikma Pharmaceuticals raised prices well above inflation. Allergan raised prices on about half its drugs, including the Alzheimer's medication Namenda, and Hikma increased prices for morphine, the anesthetic ketamine, and enalaprilat, a drug-pressure drug, the Journal notes.

There is increasing political pressure to tamp down pharmaceutical price hikes, but "the reason it can keep happening is there is no market check, no person or entity to bring reason to determining drug prices," said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions, which sells software to companies and health plans to help them find the cheapest medicines.

House Democrats are expected to put pressure on drugmakers this year, and the Trump administration has proposed making pharmaceutical companies state their list prices in TV ads. Pfizer announced that it was freezing drug price increases over the summer in response to pressure from the Trump administration, but it will go back to raising prices on 41 of its drugs later this month, the Journal notes. Peter Weber

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