President Obama has used a recess appointment to install former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as the first head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans had refused to confirm Cordray since Obama nominated him earlier this year. Announcing his move in Ohio, Obama said he would defy Republican attempts to obstruct the agency’s work.
President Obama: "The only reason Republicans in the Senate have blocked Richard is because they don’t agree with the law that set up a consumer watchdog in the first place. They want to weaken the law. They want to water it down... The financial firms have armies of lobbyists in Washington looking out for their interests. You need somebody looking out for your interest and fighting for you, and that’s Richard Cordray."
The bureau was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial oversight law, enacted in response to the financial crisis. Republicans are threatening to sue the White House over the recess appointment, contending that the Senate is still technically in session. President Obama has also made recess appointments to fill three vacant positions on the National Labor Relations Board, avoiding a suspension of the board’s operations. The NLRB had faced the prospect of shutting down this month with one board member’s term expiring and Republicans refusing to confirm two Obama nominees, thereby leaving the board without quorum. But on Tuesday, Obama tapped Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin and Republican Terence Flynn to fill the vacant seats. In a statement, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced the move, saying it will "further poison the well with regard to labor-management issues pending in front of the board and on Capitol Hill." Labor leaders meanwhile have praised the recess appointments. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, "We commend the President for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism."
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has dropped out of the Republican presidential race. Bachmann announced her departure one day after finishing sixth in the Iowa caucuses. In an exit speech to supporters, Bachmann took aim at President Obama’s signature healthcare plan.
Rep. Michele Bachmann: "I believed firmly that what the Congress had done and what President Obama had done in passing 'Obamacare' endangered the very survival of the United States of America, our republic, because I knew that it was my obligation to ensure that President Obama’s program of socialized medicine was stopped before it became fully implemented... Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside. And I believe that if we are going to repeal 'Obamacare,' turn our country around and take back our country, we must do so united. And I believe that we must rally around the person that our country and our party and our people select to be that standard-bearer."
Rep. Michele Bachmann left the stage after dropping out of the presidential race yesterday without offering an endorsement for one of the remaining candidates. Fresh off his razor-thin Iowa victory, Mitt Romney campaigned in New Hampshire on Wednesday ahead of the primary there next week. Romney picked up an endorsement from Arizona Sen. John McCain, who defeated Romney for the Republican nomination in 2008.
Sen. John McCain: "I am really here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to make sure that we make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America. And New Hampshire—and New Hampshire is the state that will catapult him on to victory in a very short period of time. That’s why I’m here."
Syrian activists continue to denounce an ongoing Arab League inquiry into violence in the country as a sham. According to the activists, Syrian authorities have led the investigators into areas loyal to the government and have falsely created the impression of a minimal army presence in the streets. The Arab League has acknowledged around 400 people have been killed in recent weeks, despite the presence of approximately 100 monitors in Syria. Earlier today, the Syrian government announced the release of 552 political prisoners, but thousands are believed to still remain behind bars.
In Iraq, at least 24 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a series of bombings targeting Shia neighborhoods in the capital Baghdad. It was the latest major attack to hit Baghdad following bombings that left 60 people dead two weeks ago.
A military trial is about to begin for the last of the U.S. marines charged in the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in the Iraqi village of Haditha in November 2005. The victims, including women and children, were killed when the marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes. The marines’ squadron leader, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, will be tried on manslaughter charges in a military courtroom at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Jury selection begins today, and opening arguments are expected on Friday. Wuterich is the last defendant to face charges for the Haditha killings. Six other marines have had their charges dropped or dismissed, while another soldier was acquitted.
European Union members have agreed in principle on a pledge to ban imports of Iranian oil as part of an international effort to pressure Iran over its alleged nuclear activities. The European move follows a new round of U.S. sanctions on Iran enacted this month. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland praised the European Union’s action.
Victoria Nuland: "These are the kinds of steps that we would like to see, not just from our close allies and partners in places like Europe, but from countries around the world, because we do believe that this is consistent with tightening the noose on Iran economically, and it also—you know, we think that the place to get Iran’s attention is with regard to its oil sector."
Demonstrations are continuing in Bahrain against the U.S.-backed Sunni monarchy months after the first pro-democracy protests broke out. On Wednesday, Bahraini forces tear-gassed a crowd of peaceful protesters who had approached a line of police officers with their arms outstretched, indicating their peaceful intent. Video footage shows Bahraini forces unleashing large amounts of tear gas into the crowd. The demonstrators had gathered to protest the death of a 15-year-old boy who died last week after he was shot in the face with a tear gas canister. A second Bahraini protester died on Monday as a result of excessive tear gas inhalation. Human rights groups say more than 50 people have been killed since the Bahraini government launched its crackdown on protesters in February. Bahrain is a key strategic ally of the United States in the Middle East and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
In other Bahrain news, Salon.com has revealed a Washington Times comment piece urging support for the Bahraini government was published following a push from Bahraini lobbyists. The editorial was written by retired Vice Adm. Charles Moore, the former commander of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Moore is now a senior-level executive at Lockheed Martin, which has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to Bahrain. Newly disclosed records show the Washington Times published the piece after lobbying from Sanitas International, a company hired by the Bahraini government and an officially registered foreign agent of the Bahraini kingdom.
Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has announced her support for legislation that would legalize gay marriage. On Wednesday, Gregoire said she would introduce same-sex marriage legislation after the new session opens next week.
Gov. Chris Gregoire: "Today I’m announcing my support for a law that gives our same-sex couples in our state the right to receive a marriage license in Washington—the same right given to our heterosexual couples. It is time. It’s the right thing to do. And I will introduce the bill to make it happen."
If the measure is approved, Washington would become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage after New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile a bi-national gay married couple in San Francisco has won a reprieve against a deportation order that threatened to tear them apart. Bradford Wells, a U.S. citizen, and Anthony John Makk, an Australian national, have lived together for 19 years and were among the first same-sex couples to legally marry in Massachusetts. Makk has faced deportation after the Obama administration denied him and his husband the same immigration benefits routinely given to opposite-sex couples. The decision is based on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law known as DOMA, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. The Obama administration has said it would no longer defend DOMA in the courts, but the law still remains in effect. On Wednesday, Makk was told he had been granted a temporary stay on the deportation order allowing him to remain in the United States for two years. Speaking to Democracy Now! earlier this year, Bradford Wells discussed the prospect of that outcome.
Bradford Wells: "I don’t want my family to live with an order of deportation hanging over us. This man has been a good man. He’s worked hard. He’s obeyed the law. He should not have to live here under an order of deportation. He should have the same dignity that everybody else has when they come to this country. He’s done nothing wrong. He’s followed the rules. He should be given his dignity and allowed to stay here not under an order of deportation. That order could always come later, if for some reason DOMA was found constitutional and this was settled not in our favor. But if Anthony is under order of deportation, that’s going to add a lot of stress to our relationship, and it’s going to put a lot of unnecessary stress on me. It’s not good for my health, it’s not good for anybody’s health, to live under unnecessary strain. There’s no benefit to anybody."
A 15-year-old Texas teenager is being held in a Colombian detention center after being mistakenly deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Jakadrien Turner, an American citizen, ran away from home in November 2010 at the age of 14 following her parents’ divorce and the death of her grandfather. In April, Turner was arrested by authorities in Houston for shoplifting and gave the authorities a fake name. The name happened to belong to an undocumented Colombian immigrant who had warrants for her arrest. Turner, who is African American and does not speak Spanish, was subsequently deported to Colombia despite having her fingerprints taken by ICE officials. Turner’s grandmother used Facebook and the help of Dallas police to track her down. Colombian officials reportedly took Turner into custody at the request of the U.S. embassy, but have so far refused to release her. Some reports have indicated she may be pregnant.
In Texas, a 15-year-old high school student was shot and killed by police on Wednesday after brandishing a pellet gun in the school’s hallway. Police say the victim, Jaime Gonzalez, pointed the weapon at police and ignored repeated commands to drop it. The weapon was found to be a pellet gun, not a handgun, only after the shooting.
A death row prisoner in Delaware is on the verge of being released after two decades behind bars. Jermaine Wright, who is African American, was sentenced to death for the 1991 slaying of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert. But this week, Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins, Jr., overturned the conviction, calling the case against Wright "weak to non-existent," with no physical evidence, no murder weapon, no witnesses able to identify Wright from a lineup, and key evidence withheld from his defense. Wright confessed to the murder in a videotaped interrogation but was apparently high on heroin at the time.