This week was a very big one, in which one of the vacancies in the Trump Cabinet got filled and another got even more vacant, while history was made in places ranging from the Korean Demilitarized Zone to a courthouse in Pennsylvania.
Here’s what you need to know.
Kim Jong Un crossed the DMZ
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un made a historically unprecedented trip across the Demilitarized Zone to have a highly publicized sit-down meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
- Diplomatic breakthroughs: This was the first trip to South Korea since the country’s de facto partition in the wake of World War II, and it presages the possible completion of a formal peace treaty between North and South Korea while laying the groundwork for Kim’s anticipating meeting with President Donald Trump.
- What’s really happening? The Trump administration’s view of events is that tough rhetoric from Washington is paying dividends in bringing the North to the table. It’s far from clear, however, that this is actually what’s going on — the flurry of high-level meetings appears to be aimed at establishing the DPRK’s legitimacy as a state, while the announced freeze on nuclear tests has little concrete value because Kim already has a working nuclear arsenal.
- What’s next? The Trump-Kim meeting will be crucial, of course, but in the shorter term, US participation in the multilateral nuclear arms deal with Iran may not last through May, and backing out of US commitments there will surely have consequences for other rounds of nuclear diplomacy.
Bill Cosby is guilty
Former television star Bill Cosby was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault Thursday, a small legal down payment on a much larger set of credible allegations against him.
- A win for #MeToo: A jury failed to reach a verdict in an earlier Cosby trial a year ago, with the blockbuster Harvey Weinstein exposé and subsequent #MeToo movement arising between trials. Cosby would be the first celebrity assaulter to face concrete legal consequences for his actions.
- Signs of rollback: At the same time, there’s already talk of Charlie Rose coming back with a new show — and Rose, at age 76, could have credibly vanished into quiet retirement in a way that some of the younger men looking to claw their way back to fame can’t.
- Cosby’s mixed message: The overall picture is that all the exposés in the world can’t change the fact that the legal system, as it exists, doesn’t really work to vindicate victims of sexual violence or deter its perpetrators.
Ronny Jackson will not be VA secretary
Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the chief of the White House medical staff, withdrew his name from consideration for the post of secretary of veterans affairs after a series of unflattering allegations about his conduct came to light.
- The accusations against Jackson: Jackson’s critics allege that he drank too much on the job, oversaw a “toxic” work environment, and even overprescribed medication. Jackson denies the allegations, even as he’s bowed out of consideration.
- A strange pick all around: Beyond these specific accusations, a larger issue is that Jackson has no background or relevant experience for running the VA’s huge bureaucracy.
- What’s next? Nobody really understands why Trump picked Jackson in the first place, so it’s difficult to say what qualities he might look for in a replacement.
Mike Pompeo was confirmed as secretary of state
His nomination hit a couple of speed bumps on the way, but CIA Director Mike Pompeo was confirmed this week as America’s next secretary of state, giving him the chance to rebuild the stature of an institution that was devastated by Rex Tillerson’s disastrous run.
- A Rand in time: Pompeo’s confirmation initially seemed in doubt because Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) announced he would oppose the hawkish Pompeo, which could have killed the nomination in committee. But after the White House leaned on him, Paul flip-flopped, clearing the way for passage.
- Democratic defectors: Most Democrats voted no on Pompeo, citing, among other things, an extensive history of ties to Islamophobia, but six Democrats crossed party lines to back him. For red-state incumbents looking to show independence from party leadership, crossing the aisle on foreign policy issues that don’t really have organized progressive interest groups behind them is just too tempting.
- An opportunity: More quietly, even several of Pompeo’s Democratic opponents hope that his ascension could mean change for the better. Trump knows and likes Pompeo, which means that, unlike the hapless Tillerson, he could have some actual influence over policy. And unlike Tillerson, Pompeo seems to understand that deliberately destroying the institution he runs is a bad idea.