The political week in 5 points

A new political landscape in Washington

On Thursday, the 116th United States Congress was sworn in, with a historic number of firsts. You can see some of the photos of the ceremony here. There were a record number of women elected to Congress, as well as the first Muslim women, the first Somali-American member, the first Native American woman, the first openly bi-sexual Senator — the list goes on. Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans kept control of the Senate. Nancy Pelosi was elected the Speaker of the House for the second time, having fought off a leadership challenge. Within hours, the House voted to reopen the government without funding for a border wall, as well as a bundle of rules to govern the House during the next session.

As one of my favorite NPR podcasts explained: “Being in the minority in the US Senate is a bit like being in the passenger seat of the car. Occasionally, you can make a grab for the wheel. Although the Senate is a bit like a car without a wheel, or a driver. Being in the minority in the House of Representatives is more like being in the trunk.”

The US government shutdown enters its third week

Despite the new Congress, the US government shutdown continues — and Donald Trump said it could go on “for even years.” A government “shut down” in the United States occurs when the Congress fails to pass the annual budget by the deadline, meaning that parts of the government are unfunded and thus get “shut down.” Nine federal agencies are closed, and 800,000 federal employees are either furloughed or working without pay. The shutdown is the result of an impasse between Democrats and Republicans over funding for a border wall — Trump said he would veto any budget which does not include $5.6 billion to construct a wall along the US border with Mexico. Democrats have said the border wall is immoral as well as ineffective, and refused to agree to any funding for the wall. Democratic leaders also urged a compromise to pass a budget that would re-open government, while continuing to have negotiations over the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump also said that if he is still unhappy with negotiations, he may declare a national emergency and use the military and Defense Department money to begin constructing the wall.

Brexit drama continues, with a meaningful vote expected to take place on 15 January

Prime Minister Theresa May said that the UK would be in “uncharted territory” if the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by Parliament this month. Mrs May told the BBC: “We’re going to be in uncharted territory. I don’t think anybody can say exactly what will happen in terms of the reaction we’ll see in Parliament.” As the 29 March Brexit deadline looms, the government is beginning to put contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit in place. A no-deal Brexit would be very, very bad — Arj Singh reports that a senior Leaver said, “We won’t be able to get certain foods like bananas or tomatoes but its not like we won’t be able to eat. And we’ll be leaving at a time when British produce is beginning to come into season so it’s the best possible time to leave.” (For some reason, readers, this statement did not feel particularly re-assuring . . .)

Leo Varadkar had said he had “given up speculating on whether the UK would leave the EU without a deal.”

Additional police officers trained for deployment in Northern Ireland

Meanwhile, the PSNI chiefs have asked for reinforcements in case of disruption from a hard border if there is a no-deal Brexit. The Guardian has reported that about 1,000 police officers from England and Scotland have begun training for deployment in Northern Ireland after March. Senior leaders and academics in Northern Ireland have warned of the civil unrest and violence a hard border could cause. PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said, “Our view is that it is better to have precautionary plans in place and not use them, than find we may need additional police support but cannot have it because we have not alerted the NPCC in advance. . . .While we plan for mutual aid, we will only ever use it when it is absolutely necessary and proportionate.” The DUP’s Nigel Dodds said that the fears about a hard border were “nonsense propaganda.”

Couple in Northern Ireland wins EuroMillions

In some of the best news we’ve heard all week, Frances and Patrick Connolly, who live in Moira, have won £115 million in the EuroMillions. They drew up a list of 50 friends and family who they intend to share their newly won wealth with. Frances Connolly said, “It’s going to be so much fun giving it away . . . the pleasure for me is going to be seeing their faces.” Her husband stated, “I’ve got a wonderful wife, a wonderful family and wonderful friends, so this is the icing on the cake.” How cute is that? This is the fourth biggest EuroMillions win, and the biggest in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph put together an article full of very Northern Irish reactions to the win from neighbors, including a butcher who joked that Mr. Connolly borrowed ten quid from him and never paid him back, and a woman from Lisburn who said, “I think it’s fantastic that they’re going to help so many other people by giving them a slice of their cake . . . But I can only feel sorry for the person who’s 51st on the list.”

Originally published at Northern Slant.

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Alina Utrata

Alina Utrata

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PhD’ing in Politics and International Studies at Cambridge via Queen's University Belfast via Stanford. www.alinautrata.com