Dems Unveil New Assault Weapons Ban in Senate

Democratic senators have unveiled their measure to reintroduce the assault weapons ban in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre that killed 27 people, including 20 children, last month. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut announced the new legislation on Thursday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "Weapons designed originally for the military to kill large numbers of people in close combat are replicated for civilian use. They fall into the hands, one way or another, of grievance killers, of gangs, of those who are mentally unstable or ill."

Sen. Christopher Murphy: "Kids would be alive today in Newtown, Connecticut, if the law that we’re proposing today were in place on December 14th of last year. It’s as simple as that. Why do we know that? We know that because the data tells us, despite what the gun lobby will say, that the first assault weapons ban, even with its warts, worked."

The measure would outlaw the manufacture and sale of 157 types of semi-automatic rifles and of magazine clips holding more than 10 rounds. The previous assault weapons ban expired in 2004 after 10 years in effect. The new measure is expected to meet stiff resistance from House Republicans and even some Senate Democrats in states with loose restrictions on firearms.

Kerry Recalls Anti-Vietnam War Activism After Protester Disrupts Senate Hearing

Democratic Sen. John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday for his confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of state. Kerry has chaired for the past four years and been a member since 1985. During his introductory remarks, Kerry was interrupted by a protester with the group CODEPINK. The activist was rushed out of the room as she called for a change to U.S. policy in the Middle East, including cutting aid to Israel. Kerry responded by invoking his own days as an antiwar activist in the early 1970s upon returning from military service in Vietnam.

Protester: "We’re killing thousands of people in the Middle East who are not a threat to us. When is it going to be enough? When are enough people going to be killed? I’m tired of my friends in the Middle East dying! I don’t know if they’re going to be alive the next day!"

Sen. John Kerry: "When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of a group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is, above all, what this place is about. So, I respect, I think, the woman who was voicing her concerns about that part of the world. And maybe one of you have traveled there. Some of you there were recently. Senator McCain, you were just there. You were in a refugee camp, and I know you heard this kind of thing. People measure what we do."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to advance Kerry’s nomination to a full Senate vote early next week.

Obama Appoints Former Prosecutor to Head SEC

President Obama has appointed former New York prosecutor Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission in his second term. Appearing with White on Thursday, Obama urged the Senate to grant her a speedy confirmation.

President Obama: "I am absolutely confident that Mary Jo has the experience and the resolve to tackle these complex issues and protect the American people in a way that is smart and in a way that is fair. And I expect the Senate to confirm Mary Jo as soon as possible so she can get to work."

White would be the first former prosecutor to head the SEC, a critical position for the oversight of Wall Street. While supporters have billed her nomination as a signal of tougher financial regulation in the second term, she also brings to the job a résumé of defending top financial institutions as a white-collar defense attorney. White’s client list includes former Bank of America head Ken Lewis, the board of Morgan Stanley, and the firm JPMorgan Chase. In a statement, the consumer advocacy watchdog Public Citizen expressed cautious optimism over White’s appointment, calling her a "tough prosecutor with expertise in complex securities and financial fraud."

Cordray Renominated to Continue Heading Consumer Protection Bureau

President Obama has announced the renomination of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray.

President Obama: "Richard’s appointment runs out at the end of the year, and he can’t stay on the job unless the Senate finally gives him the vote that he deserves. Financial institutions have plenty of lobbyists looking out for their interests. The American people need Richard to keep standing up for them, and there’s absolutely no excuse for the Senate to wait any longer to confirm him."

Obama gave Cordray a recess appointment last year in defiance of Republicans, who refused to confirm him after failing to stop the Consumer Protection Bureau’s creation in 2010.

Pentagon Lifts Ban on Women in Combat

The Pentagon has officially removed the longstanding military ban on women in combat. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formally announced the move on Thursday in Washington.

Leon Panetta: "It’s clear to all of us that women are contributing in unprecedented ways to the military’s mission of defending the nation. Women represent 15 percent of the force: over 200,000. They’re serving in a growing number of critical roles on and off the battlefield. The fact is that they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission."

In being officially allowed to serve in combat roles, women will be afforded opportunities for medals of recognition as well as for advancement to positions they have been unable to pursue.

Critics Denounce Filibuster Deal as "Capitulation"

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement altering rules for the Senate filibuster, but leaving its core intact. A deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Republicans would impose new caps on how often lawmakers can filibuster bills they oppose, but preserve the current 60-vote threshold needed to pass a bill through the Senate. In a statement, the public advocacy group Common Cause denounced the agreement as a "capitulation" and vowed to continue challenging the filibuster in court, saying: "It’s now clear that the Senate will not fix the filibuster and the President lacks authority to [do so]. We must turn to the judicial branch to enforce the Constitution."

U.N. to Probe Alleged War Crimes in U.S. Drone Strikes

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced a new investigation of the civilian toll of U.S. drone strikes overseas. Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, unveiled his inquiry on Thursday.

Ben Emmerson: "The central objective of the investigation I’m formally launching this morning is to look at the evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties, in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct thorough, independent and impartial investigations into such allegations."

The U.N. probe comes as the Obama administration appears to be escalating its drone warfare abroad, launching more than a dozen attacks in Yemen and Pakistan already this year. This week, the United States launched at least five drone strikes in Yemen in as many days. According to some reports, the latest attack mistakenly killed two Yemeni children.

North Korea Vows to Target U.S. with Nuclear, Rocket Tests

North Korea is vowing to conduct further rocket launches and a nuclear test aimed at the United States. The North Korean government issued the threat against what it called its "sworn enemy" one day after the U.N. Security Council resolution tightened sanctions in response to a North Korean rocket launch last month. The U.N. resolution was approved with the backing of China, North Korea’s lone major diplomatic ally. China is calling for a resumption of six-party talks in a bid to defuse tensions.

Ex-DEA Informant Sentenced to 35 Years for Role in Mumbai Bombings

A former informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. David Headley has admitted to scouting targets for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group blamed for killing more than 160 people, including six Americans, in a series of bombings. Headley was given a reduced sentence in return for his testimony against the plotters with whom he worked. U.S. agencies received multiple warnings about his militant ties since 2001, but he was not arrested until October 2009, nearly a year after the Mumbai attacks.

Indigenous Chief Theresa Spence Ends 6-Week Hunger Strike in Canada

In Canada, First Nations Chief Theresa Spence has ended her six-week fast following a pledge by key political figures to sign on to her demands. Spence has gone without food since December 11 in protest of a budget bill weakening environmental protections and indigenous rights. Her action helped draw global attention to the "Idle No More" movement, which has seen indigenous-led protest actions across Canada for several months. Spence decided to end her fast after leaders of the Assembly of First Nations and two Canadian opposition parties agreed to a series of principles safeguarding indigenous rights. She has now been hospitalized to help her recover.

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