6 surprises from a major news week

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.

It was a week of unexpected developments in an unpredictable but consequential election year.

Here are the surprise developments and what they could mean for the future:

Jury set for Trump’s first trial

Unless you’ve been stranded off the grid in Antarctica, you know that former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York on charges of falsifying business records related to hush money payments made before the 2016 election. This overriding lead story was the subject of blanket TV coverage and banner headlines.

The surprise is that a jury selection process predicted to take weeks was over in days. Twelve jurors and six alternates will sit in judgment of the former president.

There were multiple hiccups, such as when one juror reconsidered her ability to remain impartial or when a self-immolation created a scene outside the courthouse.

But the end result is the most important thing. The first of four potential criminal trials of Trump is happening. Opening arguments get underway next week.

We can’t say exactly who will testify because the prosecution won’t tell Trump’s team which witnesses they will call first. They anticipate Trump will violate a gag order and trash talk whoever takes the stand.

What we do know is that Trump has already tried to seed a conspiracy theory that the jury is somehow biased against him. This despite the open process that led to the seating of the anonymous jury.

165 Democrats helped the Republican speaker

“Help” is probably the wrong word. When 165 Democrats voted with 151 Republicans in favor of House Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan to hold votes on aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, it ossified the aggravation at Johnson from the right wing of his party.

Three Republicans – Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Paul Gosar of Arizona – have said they will support a plan to oust Johnson from the speaker’s chair.

House Speaker Mike Johnson arrives to speak with reporters to discuss his proposal of sending aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on April 17, 2024. - J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker Mike Johnson arrives to speak with reporters to discuss his proposal of sending aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan on April 17, 2024. - J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Johnson, meanwhile, refused to protect himself by changing House rules to make it harder to fire him. He has maintained the support of most Republicans and of Trump. At least for now.

The fault lines in the GOP, evident for years, are under immense stress. If Johnson is to keep his spot as speaker, he’ll probably need help as soon as next week from Democrats for that too.

It would be something that looks like bipartisan or coalition governing, which would be music to any moderate American’s ears. And if Johnson keeps his position as well as passes what most Americans and lawmakers want, his skill at leadership will deserve a reexamination. More to come next week.

Ukraine is finally going to get more US aid

Most lawmakers in the House and Senate support giving more military aid to Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s invasion. But the opposition of the right wing of the GOP has delayed the aid since the White House requested it in October.

Johnson, although a bona fide conservative and a skeptic at times of Ukraine aid, is finally on the cusp of getting the vote done in the House. It’s a major development.

But the fight over aid has also uncovered some uncomfortable truths, such as the prominence of the nationalist-veering GOP right wing, which is not afraid to say it doesn’t put much stock in supporting democracies around the world.

Israel and Iran may have averted all-out war, at least for now

Tit-for-tat strikes and responses between Israel and Iran in recent weeks have threatened to spark an all-out conflagration between the two countries.

This week, Iran responded to Israel’s strike on a Syrian diplomatic facility with its own strikes, which Israel responded to on Friday with a strike on Iran. But the takeaway of many analysts was that might be it for a while.

Here’s Tamara Qiblawi in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter:

This month’s dramatic escalation, which kicked off with an apparent Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, followed by a largely foiled Iranian attack of over 300 airborne weapons on Israel, seems to have given way to a rapid climbdown. Shortly after the Friday morning attack in Iran, a regional intelligence source told CNN’s Nic Robertson that Iran was not expected to respond further, and that the direct state-to-state strikes between the two enemy states were over. Read more from Qiblawi.

Joe Biden is running hard

With all the Trump trial coverage, you might have missed that President Joe Biden is running a spirited presidential campaign. While Trump is spending most days at his trial, Biden is going all over the map.

This week, he was in Philadelphia, where he went to a Wawa, and he was in Pittsburgh, where he went to a Sheetz. He was in Pennsylvania for a three-day swing to push his economic populism. If he can sustain the blue wall that wins Democrats their recent presidencies, it’s this kind of tailored campaigning that will do it.

President Joe Biden shakes hands with an employee after ordering sandwiches at a Wawa store in Philadelphia on April 18, 2024. - Andrew CAballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images
President Joe Biden shakes hands with an employee after ordering sandwiches at a Wawa store in Philadelphia on April 18, 2024. - Andrew CAballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

As Trump was spinning conspiracy theories outside his trial, Biden was adopting some of Trump’s message on issues like tariffs, while drawing a bright line between the two of them on the key American issue of protecting democracy.

All of Biden’s hard work won’t quiet the critics who point to his age and wonder if he’s up to the job, but it’s impossible to argue the man is not trying very hard to convince people he wants to remain president.

The US economy might be too hot

The term “Bidenomics” is either an insult or a brag, depending on the circumstances.

Biden’s economic pitch, as earnest as it was this week, might be a hard sell to Americans who still acutely feel the pinch of inflation and feel priced out of everything from the housing market to the restaurant scene.

The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, is worried not about a US recession, but rather that the US economy is too hot compared with other countries, according to a report released this week. While Europe and other developed countries have yet to reach their pre-pandemic growth levels, the data suggests the US economy has blown past them.

“Astonishingly, the US economy has already surged past its pre-pandemic (growth) trend,” IMF chief economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas wrote in a blog post accompanying the agency’s World Economic Outlook. That means any talk of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve in the near future is likely to end.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com