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.
Women in combat
In a popular move, the Pentagon announced this week that it is lifting the long-standing ban that prevents women from serving in front line combat roles. To a certain extent, this simply reflects a new reality of combat, as the lack of physical combat lines in Afghanistan and Iraq has meant that many female soldiers have seen combat. The Pentagon has yet to assess where exactly women will be allowed to serve, but projects that up to 237,000 new jobs in the military will be opened to women as a result of this policy. Military chiefs who believe that women should not serve in certain roles (such as special operations) will have until January 2016 to make their case.
Debt ceiling suspended
In a remarkable turnaround from previous policy, Republicans in the House have voted to suspend the debt ceiling until May 18. This follows on the heels of a retreat where Republican leadership reportedly tried to convince the party that hardline conservatism had cost them the election. The increase includes stipulations that the Senate must pass a budget or have its pay withheld, though that clause has a fairly substantial loophole. Republican leadership wants to keep the party from being held responsible for a government shutdown. Moving the debt limit off the table also guarantees that Congress will be focused on the sequester, where Republicans may have a chance to win some deep spending cuts. Whether or not that will happen is up for debate.
Obama tacks to the left in inaugural address
President Obama brought his campaign fire to the White House with an inaugural address that referenced a number of liberal and progressive causes. Climate change was placed front and center in the address, a surprising reversal from Obama’s relative silence on the issue during the election. Obama also indicated he would tackle the tax code, education and infrastructure in his next term. The most surprising moment of the inaugural address came when Obama placed the Stonewall riots alongside the Selma marches and Seneca Falls convention as key moments in U.S. history, part of a broader effort in the speech to recast American history as a history of progressivism.
Cameron promises EU referendum
Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to public pressure this week when he announced plans to hold a referendum on United Kingdom membership in the European Union by 2017. The pledge is seen as a political move to secure re-election on Cameron's part: Britain's continuing membership in the EU is controversial among voters, and by promising a referendum Cameron wards off a threat from his right in the form of the United Kingdom Independence Party. The international response has been mostly negative, with Germany, France and the President of the European Parliament warning Cameron against trying to "cherry pick" which EU policies the UK would support. The United States does not support the UK leaving the EU.
Conservatives weakened in Israeli Knesset
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party faced a surprising defeat in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) this week. His right-wing coalition, which had been projected to win handily, maintained its majority by only a single seat in the final tally. The dark horse of the election was new centrist party Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”), led by former TV news anchor Yair Lapid. Yesh Atid claimed 19 seats in an unexpected shift to the center for Israeli politics. In the wake of the election, leaders in Palestine have expressed interest in reopening talks with Israel, under the condition that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank.
LOCAL BONUS STORY
High-speed internet in Evanston
Good news if you’re going to be in Evanston for the next few years: The state of Illinois has awarded the city of Evanston and Northwestern a $1 million investment to help turn Evanston into an “Illinois Gigabit Community." Translated from tech speak, that means Internet at NU and for businesses around Evanston is going to get significantly faster in the next few years. The purpose of the project is to promote innovation and tech start-ups in the Evanston area. Young entrepreneurs and underclassmen, rejoice. Seniors…sorry.
The week ahead: Cabinet nomination fights
This past week, Senator and presumptive Secretary of State John Kerry sailed through his committee hearings thanks to his pragmatic approach to politics and long-standing relationships with many senators. The easy part of Cabinet reshuffling ends there, as the nomination battle over Obama’s new appointees will start moving to the Senate floor. Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel is facing a coordinated campaign to block his nomination, while Treasury nominee Jack Lew has a history with finance that may make his upcoming hearings worth watching. Kerry’s nomination will likely be clean, but Lew and especially Hagel could face a protracted fight.