There was a time when the White House press briefings were routine. Now, they’re becoming shorter — that is, if they happen at all.
Last week, most of the briefings with White House press secretary Sean Spicer went off camera; reporters’ questions could only be recorded as audio. On Monday, neither video or audio was allowed at the briefing. When the White House press office does answer questions, it’s increasingly the “verbal equivalent of a shrug,” the Washington Post said.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions shrugged off some questions from senators during a hearing about Russia’s role in the 2016 elections. Among the things that are still unclear: when President Donald Trump decided to fire Comey and why Sessions was involved. (Sessions also declined to discuss any of his conversations with the president.)
Trump called the whole thing a “witch hunt” in a series of messages that set Twitter afire on Friday. (Trump attorney Michael Cohen, meanwhile, has hired a lawyer of his own.)
While we wait for answers, here are five stories that provide some insight into what’s happening outside the Capitol.
1. For the first time, The Southern Baptist Convention denounces white nationalists and racists
The Southern Baptist Convention condemned white nationalists and racism at its annual meeting last week in Phoenix, a historic moment for a church born from divisions over slavery before the Civil War.
Other religious groups have taken similar stances; the Episcopal Church voted as early as 1991 that the “practice of racism is a sin.” While the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its support of slavery and segregation in 1995, it did not formally denounce racism until it was approached by Williams Dwight McKissic, Sr., the preacher of a 3,000-person congregation at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.
The issue hit home for McKissic, who began preaching more than four decades ago in his hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In 2015, after local police officer Brad Miller shot and killed black teen Christian Taylor, McKissic guided community dialogues — often focused on race — to help his congregation move forward. A few months ago, McKissic, a black minister, said he was alarmed by the racist views of alt-right leader Richard Spencer. He said he wanted to be able to tell sympathizers of the alt-right movement, Southern Baptist or not, that the church denounced racism.
“My assumption was that it was a no-brainer,” McKissic told the NewsHour.
McKissic asked the Southern Baptist Convention to reject “the retrograde ideologies, xenophobic biases, and racial bigotries of the so-called ‘Alt-Right,'” a racist movement based on a mix of white nationalism, neo-Nazi beliefs and hard-edged populism.
After some revisions and a series of votes, the resolution earned overwhelming support and a standing ovation.
“This resolution has a number on it. It’s resolution number 10. The white supremacy it opposes also has a number on it. It’s 6-6-6,” Russell Moore, of Grace Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee, said ahead of the vote, referencing an apocalyptic bible passage.
“God loves everyone, and we love everyone,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines said in a statement that also told members to “come against every kind of racism that there is.”
Why it’s important
Roughly 15 million people belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. Of those, 85 percent are white, a figure that has remained unchanged since at least 2007, according to the Pew Research Center. What has changed is the percent of black church members — down from 8 percent in 2007 to 6 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, the percent of Southern Baptists who are millennials is growing, up from less than 1 percent in 2007 to 7 percent this year, according to Pew.
McKissic said the convention’s younger generation helped convince church leaders to reverse course and vote against racism: “It reinforced our belief that the Southern Baptist Convention is on the right page and moving in the right direction with regards of race,” McKissic said.
But McKissic said he hopes convention leadership will still address other church teachings that he said promoted racism, like the “curse of Ham,” an obscure Old Testament reference used to justify slavery. McKissic had asked the convention to publicly denounce the theory as part of his resolution, but that part of his proposal was removed by the committee before the final vote.
He wants to see church congregations reflect greater unity, too.
“We’re the church, not a black church and a white church,” McKissic said. “In the 21st century, our churches need to become one.”
2. D.C. police issue warrants for Turkish agents involved in a May brawl
D.C. police issued warrants for the arrest of more than a dozen Turkish security agents that were involved in a brawl outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., last month.
The violence began when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by a group of protesters at the residence after his May 16 meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House.
Cell phone video posted online from that day shows a heated exchange of words before men with suits run across Sheridan Circle onto the grass; bodies fly to the ground as police try to break up a flurry of fistfights.
“The Turks … the Turks attacked me,” a man, face slashed and bloodied, yelled to a videographer at the scene.
D.C. police said after the brawl that they had arrested two members of Erdogan’s security team. But those people were later released after the State Department argued they had diplomatic immunity, as reported by the Washington Post.
Last week, D.C. police said two people were arrested and charged with felony and misdemeanor assault charges; the department has issued warrants for 14 other people involved in the fight.
Critics were upset that these charges were not pursued more quickly. But a statement from Turkey’s foreign ministry last week said “the decision taken by US authorities is wrong, biased and lacks legal basis; that the brawl in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s Residence was caused by the failure of local security authorities to take necessary measures.”
“This incident would not have occurred if the US authorities had taken the usual measures they take in similar high level visits and therefore … Turkish citizens cannot be held responsible for the incident that took place,” the statement said. The Post reports that Turkish officials also claim they were acting in self defense.
Why it’s important
The clash comes at a moment of high tension for the U.S. and Turkey.
The countries disagreed over a decision by the U.S. in February to arm Kurdish rebels fighting against ISIS in Syria. Turkey considers those fighters to be members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (known as PKK), which has led a 30-year revolt against the Turkish government; the U.S. also considers it a terrorist group, the AP notes.
Turkish officials claimed some protesters involved in the May brawl were members of that organization.
What makes this so complicated: Most of Erdogan’s security force is protected by diplomatic immunity, which protects embassy employees from prosecution in a host country.
But a state department official told CNN that “their diplomatic immunity lapsed when they left the country, and they would be subject to arrest if they returned to the United States.”
It’s too early to tell whether Turkey will waive diplomatic immunity, or make those named as suspects available for interviews, the AP writes. Either way, the conflict isn’t likely to make the relationship between the two NATO allies — who must work together closely in Syria as well as on the global fight against terrorism — any better.
3. Seattle police release audio of the fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles
Two Seattle police officers shot and killed a 30-year-old black woman who had alerted authorities of a possible burglary at her apartment over the weekend. The Seattle Police Department released dashcam audio of the fatal encounter on Monday.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday, two officers responded to reports of a burglary at a fourth-floor apartment, where they found a woman “armed with a knife,” the department initially reported. “Both officers fired their duty weapons, striking the woman,” its online blotter said.
Family members identified the woman as Charleena Lyles and told the Seattle Times that she was several months pregnant and had suffered from mental health issues the past year.
Seattle police confirmed that three children were inside the apartment when the shooting occurred and that the officers had “less lethal force options” at their disposal. The department confirmed to the Times that both officers are white.
Police said a burglary report would normally require one officer, but two were dispatched “because of a recent officer safety caution associated with the caller.”
Seattle Police Det. Mark Jamieson says a woman was shot multiple times by 2 responding officers to burglary call, kids in apartment at time pic.twitter.com/yUErx5WI6N
— Bettina Hansen (@bettinahansen) June 18, 2017
The released audio, which can be hard to hear at times, starts with some chatter among the officers about a previous visit to the caller’s home regarding a domestic violence incident. A short time later, a woman is heard greeting the officers. There is talk of a stolen Xbox.
Moments later, an officer is heard saying “Get back! Get back!” before shots ring out. Police said the officers shot the woman multiple times after she had brandished a knife.
“There’s no reason for her to be shot, in front of her babies!” Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister, is heard saying in a Times video.
“Why couldn’t they have Tased her? They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down,” Williams said.
Lyles’ family believes race was a factor in the shooting, the Times reported.
“Today’s incident is a tragedy for all involved,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement. The mayor also promised a thorough investigation into the shooting.
Why it’s important
The SPD was the subject of a federal civil rights investigation in 2011, in which the Justice Department found that the department routinely engaged in “in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force.”
Since that probe, the city of Seattle has been under a consent decree, meaning there was an agreement between the local police department and the Justice Department to pursue court-enforceable reforms with an independent monitor attached.
But the Trump administration has pushed back on these agreements. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a memo that it “is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” Sessions then called for a review of all consent decrees. It’s not clear what that review, or this incident, means for Seattle’s force.
4. Yoko Ono finally gets an “Imagine” songwriting credit
After more than 45 years, Yoko Ono will finally share the songwriting credit on the 1971 hit “Imagine” with her late husband John Lennon.
Last week, the National Music Publishers Associations announced the long overdue change as it presented Ono with the Centennial Song Award.
In a 1980 BBC interview with the couple, excerpted for the ceremony, Lennon says Ono was left off the credits because he was “a bit more selfish, a bit more macho.”
“[The song] should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it – the lyric and the concept – came from Yoko,” the Beatles co-founder told BBC. “But those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution,” Lennon said.
Lennon added that Ono’s 1964 book “Grapefruit” directly inspired “Imagine.”
Why it’s important
The sexism Ono faced decades ago still exists today when it comes to female artists and their contributions to their own work, as Bjork explained in a2015 interview with Pitchfork:
“I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this—I’m not dissing him—this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second.”
Bjork told Pitchform that for her latest album, media reports gave another producer sole credit for her songs, ignoring the Icelandic artist’s own work in the process. Joni Mitchell has talked about encountering a similar problem, as have Solange Knowles, M.I.A. and many others.
“I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times,” Bjork said.
5. The new grand-slam champion that took women’s tennis by surprise
Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia dominated the French Open earlier this month, stunning 15,000 fans and millions of viewers worldwide.
Ostapenko defeated No. 3 Simona Halep, and expressed her gratitude toward the crowd following her win, the Associated Press reported.
“I still can’t believe I won. It was always my dream, when I was a child I was watching players here. I’m just so happy,” she said at the Court Philippe Chatrier. “I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I have no words.”
Ostapenko, 20, is now the first unseeded woman to win the French Open since 1933, CNN pointed out. She’s also the first Latvian player in history to claim a Grand Slam championship. The last woman to win her first tour title at a major was Barbara Jordan of the U.S., who won the 1979 Australian Open.
Why it’s important
The absences of Serena Williams, who is currently pregnant, and Maria Sharapova, who was denied a wild card position after a failed drug test, have created an opening in the sport for new recruits like Ostapenko.
“We didn’t have the big names here,” tennis great Chris Evert told reporters. “But I tell you what, a star was born today, and I’ve got to say, it’s so great for women’s tennis. We need fresh, young blood.”
It’s also a sport of unpredictability, where there sometimes appears to be no clear algorithm when it comes to ranking. Higher-ranked players have won 67.9 percent of Women’s Tennis Association matches, The Economist reported. At this year’s French Open, about 62 percent of the matches were won by higher-ranked players. But since 2014, the publication says, the rate of upsets in the game have also increased.
So what’s next for Ostapenko? She now heads to the All England Club next month and will begin her season in Birmingham at the Aegon Classic, contending with eight of the world’s top 10 players.