—European leaders are warning against a victory for Marine Le Pen, the French far-right candidate who finished second in yesterday’s presidential election. She faces Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, on May 7.
—Government funding runs out Friday unless Republicans, who control the U.S. Congress and the White House, can strike a bipartisan deal with Democrats by April 28.
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Le Pen Resigns as Head of Far-Right National Front to Focus on Presidential Bid
Updated at 3:46 p.m. ET
Marine Le Pen announced Monday she was stepping down as head of the far-right National Front to focus her attention on the presidential runoff on May 7. “Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front,” she said. “I am the presidential candidate.” It is unclear if the decision is permanent. The move comes a day after Le Pen finished second in the first round presidential election. She faces Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist, in the runoff. Macron received 23.9 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 21.4 percent. Most polls show Macron, who has the backing of the French political establishment, winning by a wide margin. Le Pen has spent the past several years trying to clean up the image of her party as an anti-Semitic, racist organization.
U.S. Sanctions 271 Syrians Over Chemical-Weapons Attack
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on more than 200 Syrian government employees Monday in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of sarin gas this month on the rebel-held city of Khan Shaykhun, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians. The move, said to be the largest sanctions action in the history of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, targets 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center and freezes any property held by them within U.S. jurisdiction. It also prohibits any transactions between them and Americans. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said the move sends a “strong message” that the U.S. “will relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.” The sanctions mark the second response to the chemical-weapons attack by the Trump administration. The first took place two days after the attack, in which President Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airfield from which the chemical-weapons launch took place. Despite evidence to the contrary, Assad has denied his government having any chemical weapons, calling the allegations “100 percent fabrication.”
Saudi Arabia Elected to UN Women's Rights Commission
Saudi Arabia and 12 other countries were elected last week to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, prompting criticism by some human-rights groups the Gulf monarchy shouldn’t be included on the panel because of its poor standing on women’s rights. The 45-member commission, which elects its members for four-year terms, had a total of 13 openings to be filled, including five seats for the Asia and Pacific region, five for the African region, and three for the Latin American and Caribbean region. According to UN Women, the Asia region nominated five candidates to fill the available slots: Iraq, the Republic of (South) Korea, Japan, Turkmenistan, and Saudi Arabia. While the nomination of five countries for five seats made the Gulf monarchy’s inclusion on the commission all but certain, the move sparked controversy. UN Watch, the Geneva-based human rights NGO, called Saudi Arabia’s inclusion “morally reprehensible” and antithetical to the panel’s aim of “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.” Indeed, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 144 countries by the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap, and Human Rights Watch noted the country still maintains its restrictive male guardianship program—which mandates that women obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, marry, or exit prison—despite pledges to abolish it.
Top Afghan Officials Step Down After Taliban Attack
Afghan Defense Minister Abdullah Habibi and Qadam Shah Shahim, the army chief of staff, both stepped down on Monday after a Taliban attack last week at a base in the country’s north left more than 100 people dead. The news comes as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis travels to the country to reassess the strategy in the fight against the Taliban, which controls 40 percent of Afghanistan. His visit will now likely be overshadowed by an investigation into the attack on the base in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province. The region has been the epicenter of the fight against the Taliban, and the attack Friday was a major blow, partly because the militants were waved into the base. They drove a military truck and dressed in military uniforms, and unleashed an assault as soldiers gathered for afternoon prayers. The ease of the attack, along with the recent arrest of eight army personnel, has led to suspicions the Taliban may have had inside help. Mattis is expected to meet with Afghan officials and top U.S. military leaders, both of whom are expected to request more troops. At present there are 9,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration could face a government shutdown this week if Congress is unable to strike a bipartisan spending deal to keep the federal government running through the end of the fiscal year. The stop-gap spending bill that lawmakers passed in December to avoid a government shutdown and continue funding of federal agencies is set to expire Friday, which also marks the eve of President Trump’s first 100 days in office. Though the White House has signaled it wants the spending bill to be framed around Trump’s chief campaign promises—such as the $1.4 billion needed to begin construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the $18 billion in cuts to domestic programs—there’s no indication Democrats, who wield the eight votes Republicans need to avoid a filibuster, will support it. While both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have reaffirmed their desire to avoid a shutdown, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, “there’s good reason to be skeptical about the prospects for a deal.”
The Republican Congress has had a sputtering start to the year, falling short on a health-care bill for which they needed no help from Democrats. Schumer and Trump have spent more time insulting each other than bargaining, and the Democratic leader has little to gain politically from sparing the new president a nightmare on his 100th day in office.
New Orleans Begins Removal of Confederate-Era Memorials
Workers in New Orleans removed Monday the monument to the Battle of Liberty Place, the first step in the city’s move to take down Confederate-era monuments in the Crescent City. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, in a statement, said: “The removal of these statues sends a clear and unequivocal message to the people of New Orleans and the nation: New Orleans celebrates our diversity, inclusion and tolerance.” Critics of the memorials view them as racist; their supporters call them a historic part of the South’s legacy. The monument to the Battle of Liberty Place marks the battle in 1874 when the all-white Crescent City White League attacked the mixed-race Municipal Police in an attempt to topple city’s government. The monument was removed Monday before sunrise because of reported death threats against the crews who are dismantling them. Workers wore masks to protect their identities. Many places in the South have removed Confederate-era memorials following the killing in South Carolina of nine parishioners in a historically black church in June 2015. Confederate symbols have also been taken down in South Carolina and Mississippi amid controversy and protests.
European Leaders Welcome Macron's Election Performance in France
The European establishment is cheering Emmanuel Macron’s performance in Sunday’s French presidential election. Macron, an independent centrist, will face Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, who finished second, in the runoff on May 7. Steffan Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said on Twitter: “It’s good that Emmanuel Macron was successful with his course for a strong EU and social market economy. All the best for the next two weeks.” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, tweeted: “The result for Emmanuel Macron shows: France AND Europe can win together! The middle is stronger than the populists believe!” Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, “wished him all the best for the next round,” Juncker’s spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Twitter. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign-policy chief, said: “The result is the hope and future of our generation.” Most polls show Macron comfortably ahead of Le Pen, but the National Front candidate has seized on the anti-establishment wave that has rocked the West and could still pull off an upset on May 7.
Sometime this week, you might walk outside in broad daylight, look up at the sky, and see a luminous orb as bright as a full moon. Only it wouldn’t be the moon. It would be something far more explosive: the dazzling aftermath of a cataclysm hundreds of light-years away.
You’d be seeing the light from a supernova—the final, powerful flash of a dying star.
Or … you might see the regular old sky. Supernovas are nearly impossible to predict. But astronomers have recently started discussing the rare possibility with a bit more enthusiasm than usual, thanks to some odd behavior elsewhere in the Milky Way. If the supernova did show up tomorrow, it would be the celestial event of the year, perhaps even the century, leaving a cosmic imprint in the sky for all to see.
A writer who’s afraid to tell people what they don’t want to hear has chosen the wrong trade.
Christopher Hitchens and I weren’t close friends—I was a lesser planet in his orbit. Every so often I felt the rhetorical lash of his published words on my back, and then I tried to make him feel mine, and you can guess who got the better of those exchanges. They usually had to do with Iraq. We both supported the war, but I supported it in an ambivalent, liberal way, while Christopher supported it in a heroic, revolutionary way. The more I saw of the war, the deeper my despair became. Christopher made it a point of honor never to call retreat.
I know of many friendships that ended in those years, including a few of mine. But something strange happened between Christopher and me. For every time he called me a split-the-difference bien-pensant, and for every time I called him a pseudo–Lord Byron, we seemed to become better friends. We would say rude things about each other in print, and then we’d exchange tentatively regretful emails without yielding an inch, and then we’d meet for a drink and the whole thing would go unmentioned, and somehow there was more warmth between us than before. Exchanging barbs was a way of bonding with Christopher.
While public attention is focused on the Senate, the president is making controversial policy moves.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, said days after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Emanuel’s point was that a moment of cataclysm meant a chance for big structural reforms that wouldn’t be possible in moments of calm.
But there are other ways to take advantage of a crisis, as the Trump administration is demonstrating right now. Even as the president’s impeachment trial moves forward, the White House is acting aggressively on a range of policy proposals that are politically, legally, or morally suspect, wagering—probably correctly—that the press and the people will mostly overlook them amid the drama in the Senate.
It isn’t, as has sometimes been claimed, that Trump wanted to be impeached, or that the impeachment is somehow a brilliant Machiavellian distraction he has orchestrated. The president has made clear that he wants the trial over as quickly as possible. But as long as it’s going on, the White House is using the crisis as best as it can.
False statements and West Wing disorder are not only inseparably linked; they’re mutually reinforcing.
Donald Trump faces the diciest moment of his presidency, a Senate impeachment trial, with a pair of distinct handicaps: shattered credibility and a West Wing that is broken into fiefdoms and often clueless about his intentions. Both were years in the making; neither seems easily fixed.
From the outside, these can seem like two different problems. But in many ways, they’re one and the same. False statements and West Wing disorder are not only inseparably linked; they’re mutually reinforcing.
Start with a president who is a solitary decision maker and who has swept aside early staff efforts to vet the material he sees. Trump now absorbs information, innuendo, gossip, and calumny wherever he finds it. He’s getting it from random Twitter feeds and old friends, from overseas autocrats and pro-Trump talking heads. He’ll repeat rumor as fact without naming the source.
And a resulting acquittal verdict would present Americans with something far worse than a constitutional crisis.
On the opening day of the impeachment trial, the Senate, in a party-line vote of 53–47, approved an organizing resolution establishing the ground rules for the trial and rejecting efforts by Democrats to compel the testimony of witnesses and the production of documents not included by the House in its impeachment inquiry. However, the resolution allows Democrats to renew their motions to subpoena witnesses and documents after House managers and the president’s defense lawyers have completed their opening statements. The fateful battle over witnesses will thus begin in earnest next week.
In December, Donald Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell succeeds in his intention to prevent any witnesses from testifying, Trump will become the first president to be acquitted by an unconstitutional impeachment process.
The “crazy worms” remaking forests aren’t your friendly neighborhood garden worms. Then again, those aren’t so great either.
On a sweltering July day, I follow Annise Dobson down an overgrown path into the heart of Seton Falls Park. It’s a splotch of unruly forest, surrounded by the clamoring streets and cramped rowhouses of the Bronx. Broken glass, food wrappers, and condoms litter the ground. But Dobson, bounding ahead in khaki hiking pants with her blond ponytail swinging, appears unfazed. As I quickly learn, neither trash nor oppressive humidity nor ecological catastrophe can dampen her ample enthusiasm.
At the bottom of the hill, Dobson veers off the trail and stops in a shady clearing. This seems like a promising spot. She kicks away the dead oak leaves and tosses a square frame made of PVC pipe onto the damp earth. Then she unscrews a milk jug. It holds a pale yellow slurry of mustard powder and water that’s completely benign—unless you’re a worm.
In the past half century, the number of bathrooms per American has doubled.
American exceptionalism takes on many forms, both flattering (our immigrant-founded start-ups) and unfortunate (our health-care prices). But perhaps no part of life in the United States is more unambiguously exceptional than this: We have so many damn bathrooms.
The New York Times’ 1619 Project launched with the best of intentions, but has been undermined by some of its claims.
With much fanfare, The New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue in August to what it called the 1619 Project. The project’s aim, the magazine announced, was to reinterpret the entirety of American history. “Our democracy’s founding ideals,” its lead essay proclaimed, “were false when they were written.” Our history as a nation rests on slavery and white supremacy, whose existence made a mockery of the Declaration of Independence’s “self-evident” truth that all men are created equal. Accordingly, the nation’s birth came not in 1776 but in 1619, the year, the project stated, when slavery arrived in Britain’s North American colonies. From then on, America’s politics, economics, and culture have stemmed from efforts to subjugate African Americans—first under slavery, then under Jim Crow, and then under the abiding racial injustices that mark our own time—as well as from the struggles, undertaken for the most part by black people alone, to end that subjugation and redeem American democracy.
With the recent victory, the association has shown signs that it cannot defend its amateurism model for much longer.
College-sports fans have generally become desensitized to the cognitive dissonances of the NCAA’s amateurism policies. The rules, which prevent the payment of cash or other “extra benefits” to student athletes or their families, are necessary to retain the purity of amateur competition, according to the association. Without such restrictions, supporters argue, NCAA sports would devolve into just another minor league of professional sports, with capitalism becoming the athletes’ sole driving source of loyalty to their university. These guidelines usually operate in the public consciousness as a low hum—background noise that doesn’t distract from the compelling sporting events that audiences allow themselves to enjoy. But every now and then, the humming erupts into a roar. And in those moments, viewers are forced to confront the system they have embraced. Odell Beckham Jr. delivered one of those moments last week.
Political hobbyism is to public affairs what watching SportsCenter is to playing football.
Many college-educated people think they are deeply engaged in politics. They follow the news—reading articles like this one—and debate the latest developments on social media. They might sign an online petition or throw a $5 online donation at a presidential candidate. Mostly, they consume political information as a way of satisfying their own emotional and intellectual needs. These people are political hobbyists. What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football.
For Querys Matias, politics isn’t just a hobby. Matias is a 63-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic. She lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a small city on the New Hampshire border. In her day job, Matias is a bus monitor for a special-needs school. In her evenings, she amasses power.