Today on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are continuing a historic sit-in on the floor of the House to demand a vote on gun control after the Orlando massacre left 49 people dead. Democrats are pushing for votes to expand background checks for gun purchases and to curb the sale of weapons to people on government watchlists—a proposal strongly opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, among other groups. The sit-in was initiated by Congressmember John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement. We’ll go to Washington, D.C., after headlines.
Voters across Britain are heading to the polls today in a historic referendum known as Brexit to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Polls are too close to call. It’s the third nationwide referendum in British history. Today’s vote comes exactly a week after British MP Jo Cox was murdered. She was a vocal advocate for Britain to stay in the EU. During the attack, eyewitnesses said, her alleged assassin, Thomas Mair, shouted "Britain First"—a possible reference to the far-right, anti-immigrant political party of the same name which is pushing for Britain to leave the EU. Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke to Democracy Now! earlier this week about why he supports staying in the European Union.
Jeremy Corbyn: "I have been campaigning for a remain vote in the European Union, because I think we have to work with like-minded people across Europe who want to deal with tax havens and tax avoidance, who want a continent that does protect its environment and encourage others to protect its environment, but also one that’s in solidarity with people rather than seeing them all as enemies."
In news from the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by one of the leading figures of the Republican national security establishment: Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to George H.W. Bush. His endorsement of Hillary Clinton is the latest indication of the chaos within the Republican Party over the presumptive nomination of Donald Trump. Not all Republican operatives, however, share the discomfort. On Wednesday, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s first defense secretary, told Fox News Wednesday he can’t imagine not voting for Donald Trump.
Colombian government officials and FARC rebels are gathering in Havana, Cuba, to announce a historic ceasefire nearly four years in the making. The breakthrough deal reportedly includes terms on an armistice, the handing over of weapons, and the security of insurgents who give up their arms. Both sides also apparently found common ground on issues of agrarian reform, the rebels’ participation in politics, combating drug trafficking, reparations to victims and transitional justice. We’ll go to Bogotá, Colombia, for more on the historic peace deal later in the broadcast.
A new report shows demand for abortions has soared in Latin American countries hit by the Zika virus. The study in The New England Journal of Medicine shows demand for abortions has more than doubled in Ecuador and Brazil, and has nearly doubled in Venezuela. In all three countries, abortion is illegal except in rare instances, such as when the life of the mother is at risk. The study tracked the number of requests for abortions through the group Women on Web, a nonprofit that provides online access to abortion medications. In one request, a woman from Venezuela wrote: "We are going through a really serious situation for the economic and humanitarian crisis unleashed by Zika. There are no treatments, contraceptives nor pills to abort. I want to terminate my pregnancy but I cannot."
In news on Honduras, questions are mounting about the legality of U.S. military funding to Honduras, following allegations by a former Honduran soldier that murdered environmentalist Berta Cáceres appeared on a hit list distributed to U.S.-trained special forces before her assassination. First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz told The Guardian he is "100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army." State Department Press Secretary John Kirby responded to questions Wednesday about the new reports.
John Kirby: "We’ve seen media reports alleging the existence of a Honduran activist hit list, as you’ve described it."
John Kirby: "The U.S. government has not previously heard any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths ordered by the military, and we do not have any information which would substantiate this report."
Reporter: "You have not? You have not heard of these kill lists?"
John Kirby: "I think that’s what I just said. We don’t have—"
John Kirby: "We haven’t heard of any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths."
Reporter: "I mean, since—"
John Kirby: "And we do not have any information that would substantiate this report."
Reporter: "One human rights professor called this 'smoking-gun evidence.' If this isn’t credible, what is credible evidence on the level you’re talking about?"
John Kirby: "We haven’t seen, in our view, credible evidence to back up these allegations. If we do, we’ll take it seriously."
Georgia Representative Hank Johnson has introduced a bill to stop all U.S. military funding to Honduras.
Meanwhile, in New York City, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Mexican Consulate and marched to Times Square to denounce Sunday’s deadly police attack on protesting teachers in Oaxaca, which left more than nine people dead and more than 100 wounded. Protesters also demanded the United States stop funding the Mexican police and security forces. Miguel Ángel Mendoza, a former Mexican teacher from Oaxaca who now lives in Connecticut, compared the case of the missing 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa to the deaths in Oaxaca.
Miguel Ángel Mendoza: "I think that the Mexican government is trying to kill the root, so that we won’t have more seeds. It wants to eliminate all the teachers so that there is no one left to protest, because the teacher is the social justice fighter, the one who does the work of fighting for the rights of the communities."
This comes as Reporters Without Borders is calling on the Mexican government to investigate the murder of two reporters this week. On Sunday, Elidio Ramos Zárate was shot by armed gunmen in Oaxaca, while on Monday, freelance journalist Zamira Esther Bautista was also shot dead by armed gunmen in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. At least eight journalists have been murdered in Mexico this year.
The Senate has rejected legislation that would have expanded the FBI’s secretive surveillance powers. The measures would have increased the FBI’s authority to use so-called national security letters, which do not require a warrant, to collect individuals’ digital data from companies such as Google or Verizon. The legislation was only two votes short of passing.
In California, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen has called for mandatory prison sentences for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated person—following the international outcry over the light sentence in the Stanford rape case. Earlier this month, California Judge Aaron Persky gave Stanford swimmer Brock Allen Turner a six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Judge Persky said he was concerned a longer prison sentence would have a "severe impact" on Brock Allen Turner. The proposed legislation would make penalties for Turner’s offense a mandatory minimum of three years in state prison.
In Cortlandt, New York, activists known as the "Montrose 9" headed to court Wednesday for blocking the construction yard of the Spectra Energy gas pipeline in November. Spectra Energy’s AIM pipeline would run only hundreds of feet from the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant, sparking concerns that a pipeline break could cause a catastrophic nuclear disaster that would threaten New York City. In court on Wednesday, activists pleaded the necessity defense—arguing their actions were necessary because of the threat of climate change.
And Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has sued the private water corporation Veolia for fraud and negligence during the ongoing Flint water contamination crisis. Veolia, one of the largest for-profit water companies in the world, was hired by Flint in 2015 to address the city’s water quality. At the time, Veolia produced a report falsely claiming the water was safe to drink. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office also sued Texas-based company LAN, which was hired to prepare the city’s water plant and treat the water. This is Attorney General Bill Schuette announcing the lawsuit.
Attorney General Bill Schuette: "In Flint, Veolia and LAN were hired to do a job, and failed miserably. They failed miserably in their job, basically botched it, didn’t stop the water in Flint from being poisoned. They made it worse. That’s what they did. Our criminal investigation is ongoing, and as I stated and as I guaranteed, more charges to come, so stay tuned."
Flint’s lead poisoning began when an unelected emergency manager appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder switched the source of the city’s drinking water to the corrosive Flint River. Today, the water in Flint is still poisoned and unsafe to drink.