Politics in Review 2/22-2/28

Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters.

Hello dear reader! I thought about skipping this week and doing a bigger column next week, but then big things happened, so let’s get to it!

Airstrike in Syria

On Thursday, President Biden launched his first military action as president, bombing Syrian facilities used by Iranian-back militia groups.

The strike was ordered after U.S. intelligence determined that Iran had facilitated recent attacks that endangered American troops outside Irbil International Airport. Though the attacks took place as late as Feb. 15, the administration held off on retaliation to be sure it wouldn’t escalate tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” said John Kirby, Pentagon spokesperson. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq.”

Congressional Democrats have denounced the attack, calling for more transparency from the administration on military actions. 

“The American people deserve to hear the Administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress. Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional, absent extraordinary circumstances,” said a statement from Tim Kaine, D-Va. 

While Democrats have denounced the strike, some on the other side of the aisle praised the move, like Lindsey Graham, R-S.C..

Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame’s Law School, said the attack was a violation of international law.

Since the United States struck Syria in response to an attack backed by Iran, it wouldn’t meet the standards for military action set by the United Nations, according to O’Connell.

Virginia abolishes the death penalty

In less dour news (depending on who you ask), earlier this week lawmakers in Virginia voted to abolish the death penalty for their state.

The Democratically-controlled state legislature took up the repeal, claiming that capital punishment disproportinately affected people of color and the mentally ill, according to the Associated Press.

“It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably. We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw in a joint statement.

“By voting for abolition, we are showing the way, that if Virginia — the state with the longest history and the most people executed — if we can do it, so can other states,” Rachel Sutphin said. Sutphin is one of 13 family members of murder victims who wrote to the state assembly asking for them to abolish the death penalty.

Sutphin’s father, Cpl. Eric Sutphin, was killed in 2006 while working for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. The man convicted of Eric Sutphin’s killing was executed in 2017.

Republican state legislators have decried abolition as denying justice to the families of murder victims. Virginia currently has two men on death row, Anthony Juniper and Thomas Porter, both sentenced for murder.

“We have five dead Virginians that this bill will make sure that their killers will not receive justice,” Republican De. Rob Bell said. 

In other news

  • U.S. intelligence forces have determined that Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. President Biden has said that he won’t penalize Bin Salman for the killing, citing potential diplomatic repercussions.
  • FDA advisors greenlit Johnsons & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine this week, putting it on track for official approval by the agency. This vaccine is somewhat less effective than those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, but according to the advisors doing the review, the potential benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

That’s all we’ve got for this week! Did I miss anything? Let us know down below.

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