Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Feb 22, 2018 in Stuff You Should Know

Immigration Debate Fails

Last week, the Senate opened the floor to debate over the recent immigration bill. Senator Majority Leader McConnell promised a fair and open debate, which was supposed to last up to a week.

Instead, it lasted just over an hour. And by the end of it, no compromise bill had been reached.

The immigration debate centered around what to do about so-called “Dreamers,” people who were brought to this country illegally as children and allowed to remain here under President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) plan. The Trump administration ended the DACA program abruptly in September and ordered Congress to come up with a new plan before the March 5 deadline. Congress hasn’t managed to do so yet. The debate over an immigration bill has shut down the government twice so far this year.

Here’s what the Senate came up with last week: a bipartisan plan that would allow a path to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for $25 billion to fund border security. But just hours after the agreement was reached, the White House began speaking out against it, calling it irresponsible and dangerous. President Trump even threatened to veto such a bill if it ever reached his desk. Ultimately, the proposed immigration bill came much closer than any others have so far, but it still failed by six votes (both Republicans and Democrats voted against the bill).

The Senate is scheduled for a week-long recess, making it unlikely that any agreement will be reached before the March 5 deadline. Any proposal will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.

Dig Deeper Based on Internet resources and what you’ve seen in the news, what will happen if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement on immigration reform before the March 5 deadline? Do you think Congress will be able to reach an agreement by then? Why or why not?

Presidential Portraits Unveiled

On February 12, the official presidential portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were released at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Both portraits are dramatically different from any that have come before. First, both were painted by two acclaimed African American artists: the former president’s by Kehinde Wiley, and the former first lady’s by Amy Sherald.

The portraits are also very different from previous ones in terms of their style. Instead of the traditionally stiff head-shot, Obama is shown sitting with his arms crossed, wearing a suit without a tie, surrounded by foliage and flowers. (Interestingly, the flowers symbolize his background: jasmine for his childhood in Hawaii, chrysanthemums for his political career in Chicago, and African blue lilies for his father’s Kenyan heritage.)

Michelle Obama is also shown seated. Her portrait is dominated by a long, geometrically-patterned gown that forms a triangle shape. This illustrates not only her impressive fashion sense, but also represents the former first lady’s belief in standing up for racial, gender, and LGBTQ+ equality.

Both Obamas are portrayed wearing serious expressions and seem to be thinking hard about important issues. Some have even compared Michelle’s difficult-to-read smile to the famous portrait, Mona Lisa.

Because these portraits are so different from all presidential portraits that have come before, they’ve received a strong emotional response, both good and bad, from art critics and the public alike. But most can agree that they are nontraditional portraits of a president and first lady who were anything but traditional.

What Do You Think? Write a short paragraph responding to the portraits. Do you like them? Or do you think the Obamas should have chosen more traditional artists to portray them in a more traditional style? Explain.

Tenative Hope for Syria

Last year’s international news headlines were dominated by horrific stories about the civil war in Syria, which led to widespread devastation, death, and the displacement of countless people. Today, the situation in Syria has improved somewhat. Army Major General Jamie Jarrard commands the U.S. special operations forces in Syria. According to Jarrard, ISIS is on its last legs, reduced to fighting over land that is useless or which has already been destroyed.

Certainly, some parts of Syria have seen vast improvement. The city of Raqqa, for example, was largely flattened by the fighting. Now, however, women are able to leave their houses again. Girls can attend school. People can move freely in the streets without fear that ISIS fighters will detain and imprison them for no reason. Fresh food can be purchased at outdoor markets.

In other parts of the country, however, progress is less certain. Particularly along the northeast and northwest borders of Syria, fighting between U.S. forces and Russian-backed Syrian forces continued as recently as last week.

A bigger problem is how to rebuild Syria in the wake of so much destruction. The U.S. military estimates that it will take at least another year to stabilize the country. Even in Raqqa, thousands of explosive booby traps which were left behind by ISIS still remain, hidden in and around homes. Dozens of people are killed every week by these bombs. Our country currently spends a billion dollars a year in aid to Syria. Some of this money goes to lifesaving and humanitarian efforts. The rest goes to rebuilding basic infrastructure so that residents can begin moving on with their lives.

What Do You Think? Once ISIS is driven out of Syria, do you think the United States should continue supplying humanitarian and military aid to the country? Why or why not?

The Return of Romney

Mitt Romney has been out of the political spotlight for a while. You might remember him as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007. Or more likely, you’ll remember him as the Republican candidate who lost to Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, when Romney was the first Mormon to be the candidate from a major party.

Mitt Romney's campaign bus

Credit: McGraw-Hill Education

Since his 2012 defeat, Romney has not tried to do much politically. But he was openly critical of Trump during the 2016 election and continues to publicly criticize him as president, even calling him a “fraud” and a “phony.” Last Friday, Romney re-entered the political arena and announced that he will run for the Senate. He wishes to replace Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is retiring after seven terms.

Though Romney is a Republican, he has made his pro-immigrant and pro-diversity position well known. He is considered one of the most popular politicians in the state. He also has very strong ties to the state’s large Mormon community: his great-great-grandfather was a Mormon pioneer who helped settle the state. But he is facing criticism from many Utah Republicans, who worry that because Romney himself isn’t from Utah and has spent most of his life living in other places (Massachusetts and California), he won’t truly represent their needs. Others have voiced similar concerns that because Romney is so wealthy, he won’t understand the problems of everyday people.

Dig Deeper Orrin Hatch was the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history. How long was Hatch a member of the Senate? Do you think there should be a limit on how long legislators are allowed to serve? Explain.