Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the US will not suspend its military exercises it is holding close by the Korean Peninsula just because of the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in South Korea this coming February.
Due to the past year’s escalation in missile tests coming from North Korea there is international worry that the safety of the Olympic games in February could be at stake if North Korea is provoked in any way.
US military exercises in the region have been known to annoy North Korea in the past. The regime often complains that US maneuvers are in preparation for an invasion, even though the US has explained that the exercises are just to improve the US’s military readiness. Despite the reassurances, North Korea’s state-run media said that joint exercises between South Korea and the US was provocative, pushing North Korea and the US “to the brink of nuclear war.”
South Korea is considering postponing or cancelling a planned military exercise due to commence in the spring, in order to reduce tension and/or conflict during the Olympics. However, Mattis said the US would not change its own plans due to diplomatic issues. Mattis did leave open the possibility that the exercises could be delayed for other reasons, such as the schedule of local holidays or the availability of equipment or ships.
“The rescheduling of exercises will be, as always, subject to both countries,” Mattis told reporters. “If a pause is, I’m pausing them for a period of time because of a diplomatic issue or something, no, I don’t anticipate that right now.”
In September North Korea tested an hydrogen bomb underground, while all year long it has been firing missiles and conducting nuclear tests. Last month it fired its highest-flying missile so far. None of this seems to worry Mattis, who said that “Nothing impresses him” when he was asked if he was impressed by North Korea’s accomplishments in the development of nuclear capability.
Speaking on “Face the Nation,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said that it was a “mistake” for the Republican National Committee to return its support for Roy Moore, candidate for Senator from Alabama, who is accused of sexual misconduct with women and girls, some as young as 14. Collins said that the Senate “will have a very tough decision to make” if Moore should win the election this Tuesday.
“I’m disappointed that the RNC has resumed its support of Roy Moore. I think that’s a mistake. I would point out that I did not support Mr. Moore even prior to these allegations of sexual misconduct,” Collins emphasized. “Because I was concerned about his anti-Muslim comments, his anti-LGBT comments, and also, most important of all, he’d been removed twice from the Alabama Supreme Court for failure to follow lawful judicial orders.”
Moore has denied the allegations made against him. His wrongdoing dates back 30 years, when he was a young district attorney in Alabama. Despite his denials the GOP originally called for his withdrawal from the election. The RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee both divorced themselves from ties with Moore’s campaign soon after the accusations were lodged.
President Trump also called for Moore to step aside, saying in a statement that the former chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court should refrain from running for the Senate if the allegations against him are true.
Trump backtracked, however. Last week Trump endorsed Moore on Twitter, and recorded a automatic call in support of him. In Pensacola, Florida, right across the border from Alabama, Trump urged Alabamans to vote for Moore
Support for Moore from Trump also came with backing from the RNC, including financially. The NRSC has remained distant from Moore. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, chairman of the NRSC stated that if Moore does win the election he would support expelling Moore from the Senate.
Collins mostly agreed with Gardner, although she would hesitate to throw Moore out of the Senate if he were indeed elected.
“If the allegations are known prior to the election … then we have a very tough decision to make about whether it’s our role as senators to overturn the will of the people,” she said. “Now, I think it’s a different situation if the allegations are not known, or if they occur while the person is sitting in the Senate.”
The “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act” was passed in House of Representatives on Wednesday by 231-198. The bill has been a top priority for the National Rifle Association because it essentially creates a Federal gun license based on the lowest nationwide standards concealed carry requirements.
Representatives voted mostly according to party lines, except for six Democrats that voted with the GOP and 14 Republicans that sided with the Democrats in opposition. Democrats in the Senate are strongly against the bill, saying that this law will override any state laws which aim to control who can carry concealed weapons inside their own borders, which in many cases exceed that standards set by other states.
The bill also improves the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and requests that the US attorney general announce the position the Justice Department takes on the use of “bump stocks,” specifically their use would lead to additional criminal penalties.
Republicans hailed the passage of the bill as an important victory. The bill’s author, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) said the vote “is a huge win for freedom, the American people, and the 15 million concealed carry permit holders across the country who every day become the risk of becoming criminals because they cross an invisible state line.”
Gun control advocates and Democrats say the bill is “dangerous and misguided.” Especially now when the US has just seen a tragic wave of death due to mass shootings.
“The bill is horrible,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. “What it does is rob every state the ability to maintain standards on concealed carry.”
“It uses the power of the federal government to import the law in the one state into another state so that New York would have to allow concealed-carry permits approved in Texas, even if Texas has no standards whatsoever,” Nadler added.
The vote angered gun-control groups, saying it was a huge step backwards in the county’s efforts to stay safe from gun violence.
“Congress has failed the American people,” said former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting that left six people dead. “After two of our nation’s worst mass shootings, Congress took direct instruction from the gun lobby and passed a bill that will override existing state laws and allow dangerous, untrained people to carry guns in every state and every city. Let’s be clear: These politicians are trading our safety for political contributions from the gun lobby.”