Paul Ryan steps back from the House of Representatives


Paul Ryan taps out as Speaker of the House, the Syrian chemical attack prompts action, and Zuckerberg testifies in this week’s Friday politics roundup.

Paul Ryan will not seek reelection

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that he will not seek re-election. Instead, he plans to retire at the ripe old age of 48, in a move that has surprised many of his fellow politicians. A considerable number of Republicans had planned for Ryan to remain in power in the House of Representatives for a while longer, giving them a sense of stability in a decidedly unstable political moment.

Why would Ryan want to leave at such a time? Some speculate that the policy shifts and sudden, Twitter-based announcements originating from the White House have caused Ryan and many others to flee a sinking ship. Whether the said ship is the Republican party or federal government in general remains to be seen. Others speculate that Ryan may be distancing himself from the faltering political establishment in preparation for a 2024 campaign.

It’s currently unclear how this retirement will affect the political forecast. The retirements of senators and representatives such as Ryan and at least 42 other Republicans could leave seats open for both Democrats. With a Democratic majority, the White House and other branches of government could face serious resistance, including a presidential impeachment investigation.

On the other hands, perhaps more radical members of their own party will take Republicans’ seats. It’s difficult to say for sure. The presidential election of 2016 should have at least taught us to take every prediction with a bucket of salt.

Chemical attack in Syria prompts an international reaction

In response to reports of a chemical weapons attack against Syrians by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. and other nations may launch an attack against the Assad regime. After speaking with the U.S. president, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said that the two leaders agree “that the Assad regime had established a pattern of dangerous behavior in relation to the use of chemical weapons”.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Syria had crossed a “red line”, which compels France to react.

This echoes former U.S. President Barack Obama’s reference to a red line being crossed during a 2013 chemical attack. This attack also happened in Syria, and also likely was done at the hands of the Assad regime. Obama faced significant criticism for the lack of a military response to the atrocities.

It is apparently one thing to talk about what you would do, and another thing entirely to actually do it. Will Macron and others face that same tenuous situation now?

Even the United States, as fond as it currently is of aggressive rhetoric, has tempered some of its comments. There may be a U.S. airstrike against Syrian forces soon, or there may not. U.S. leadership has said that it will react, but they must tread carefully. Russia is a friend to the Syrian government. Military action against Syria could be taken as a move against Russia, as well. That’s especially nerve-wracking given the recent tense relations between the United States and Russia.

Zuckerberg testifies before Congress

It’s at least a little strange to think that Facebook has gone from a college-only social platform to such a technological behemoth that its CEO now must testify before a Senate committee. Actually, that’s two Senate committees —  the Commerce and Judiciary committees — along with the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO in question, was answering questions about the recent Facebook data breach. Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm connected to the 2016 Republican presidential campaign, gathered the sensitive data of an estimated 87 million Facebook users. Specifically, the firm did so without asking for consent.

“I think it’s pretty much impossible, I believe, to start a company in your dorm room and then grow it to be at the scale that we’re at now without making some mistakes,” Zuckerberg told lawmakers.

While quite a few members of Congress rightfully questioned Zuckerberg about the privacy implications of both the leak and Facebook in general, others raised different concerns. How should Facebook and other technology giants manage themselves? Should they be allowed to self-regulate or does the situation require more government oversight? Has Facebook become a dangerous monopoly?

Senator Lindsey Graham said that “continued self-regulation is not the right answer when it comes to dealing with the abuses we have seen on Facebook.” Zuckerberg himself said that he would welcome government regulation, as long as it was the “right regulation.”

F.B.I. raids presidential lawyer’s office

Michael Cohen, a long-time personal lawyer to the president, has now come under F.B.I. scrutiny. Under what is reportedly an investigation into possible bank fraud, the agency raided his New York office and a hotel room occupied by Cohen. Though the president later called the affair a “disgraceful situation,” the F.B.I. agents did carry a search warrant. Generally, a judge will only issue a search warrant if they believe that investigators are likely to find supporting evidence.

The F.B.I. was apparently tipped off by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel leading the Russia investigation. According to Cohen’s lawyer Stephen Ryan, “the New York action is, in part, a referral by the office of special counsel, Robert Mueller.”

Mueller and his team are tasked with looking into charges of collusion between U.S. and Russian officials. However, they may also investigate and prosecute wrongdoings discovered in the course of the investigation. That said, his referral of this matter to a different agency is shrewd. Lawyers for Paul Manafort have claimed that the scope of Mueller’s investigation is too broad.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

As at the end of any politics roundup, you may feel that you need a bit of an escape. If that’s the case, no one can rightfully blame you. Perhaps you’d like to take a step back from the real world and indulge in a romance novel.

Before that grimace gets stuck on your face, hear me out. Romance novels have been unfairly maligned over the years. It’s true that a large number are formulaic and quickly written, but is that truly different from any other genre?

Just like other genre fiction (and even high-falutin’ literary fiction), romance has its duds, sure. But, it also has its gems. If you need a bit more convincing, check out a few articles: Natalie Luhrs tells us “Why You Should Read Romance” at Uncanny Magazine, while Jessica Luther makes the case for feminist romance novels at The Atlantic.

Next: EPA head Scott Pruitt is in trouble over a condo lease

Starting to get interested? In that case, took a look at Vulture’s list of the best romance books of 2017. Cup of Jo also has a thorough list full of other good recommendations.