Each week, NBN Politics recaps the top five news stories from the past week and brings you a look at the week ahead. Welcome to the Fast Five.
Obama outlines legislative agenda
President Obama laid out his policy plans for the year on Tuesday in the annual State of the Union address. The White House claimed in days before that it would not be as liberal as the second Inaugural Address, although it still leaned significantly left. Though he made the token concessions to bipartisanship, such as claiming that none of his proposals would add to the deficit, the bulk of the speech was devoted to more liberal concerns. Most notable among the President’s ideas were a proposal to index the minimum wage to inflation, a proposed shift away from deficit reduction and universal preschool.
Pope Benedict XVI resigns
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world’s Catholics when he announced his abdication from the papacy earlier this week. His abdication marks the first papal abdication since 1415 (coincidentally, a Benedict was also involved in that one). The pontiff’s departure has set off a wave of retrospective pieces analyzing his failure to reform the church, as well as a predictable round of speculation regarding his successor. The most likely candidates seem to be Angelo Scola, who heads Europe's largest archdiocese, Marc Ouellet, a Vatican administrator and Gianfranco Ravasi, who will be preaching at this year’s papal Lenten retreat.
Republicans delay Hagel nomination
The Senate made history this week with the first ever filibuster of a defense secretary nominee. Nominee Chuck Hagel has had his nomination delayed by Senate Republicans concerned over (largely fabricated) claims that Hagel has ties to anti-Israel groups. Additionally, a number of senators are holding up the Hagel nomination to gain more leverage on the somehow still-ongoing Benghazi debate. Democrats attempted to end the filibuster on Thursday, but fell one vote short of the 60 needed. The brouhaha over Israel and Benghazi has distracted from major defense issues. In Hagel’s committee hearings, Afghanistan came up only 24 times.
North Korea conducts nuclear tests
The same week that Obama has brought nuclear disarmament back to domestic politics, North Korea laid out a very persuasive argument to work on disarmament globally. On Tuesday, Pyongyang tested a nuclear explosion underground, triggering a wave of condemnation from around the globe. The expected responses from the United States and the United Nations, but the most interesting response came from China. China, which had called on Kim Jong-Un’s government to stop testing, was quick to criticize North Korea for its actions. Whether or not this is a sign of weakening relations between the long-time allies is up for debate.
Jesse Jackson Jr. faces fraud charges
Chicago congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned last year amid an ongoing federal probe into corruption, citing his deteriorating health. This week, federal prosecutors detailed their case against the former legislator, alleging that he used campaign funds for a series of personal purchases including more than $18,000 spent on Michael Jackson memorabilia. In total, the charges amount to $750,000 worth of campaign funds spent fraudulently. Jackson faces up to five years in prison for his crimes, while his wife may go to jail for up to three years for filing false tax returns.
State of the Union bonus story
Marco Rubio brings back Watergate
In what is probably the least significant but also most amusing moment of the week, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida drank water during the Republican response to the State of the Union. You really have to see the moment in video to understand how awkward it was, though a GIF works just as well. The gaffe set off a storm of questions about Rubio’s alleged presidential aspirations. Here’s a prediction from Fast Five: the water gaffe was irrelevant and everyone will forget about it in a month, let alone by 2016. It was fun, though.
The week ahead: negotiations in Afghanistan
Following President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will withdrawing more than half of its troops from Afghanistan over the next year, expect withdrawal plans to be in the news over the next few months. The peace process with the Taliban, the role of drone strikes and the exact nature of the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan following the 2014 withdrawal. With relations between the United States and Afghanistan continuing to worsen over civilian casualties, the debate over the withdrawal will no doubt be heated and lengthy. Negotiation and deal-making may start in the next week, but expect the conversation to continue well into next year.