The Senate has agreed to end debate on a controversial immigration bill, setting the stage for a vote likely to come today. The bill would heighten enforcement measures, establish a temporary guest worker program, punish employers who hire undocumented immigrants and open a route to citizenship for at least some undocumented immigrants. If passed, the Senate bill would have to be reconciled with the Sensenbrenner bill passed by the House in December. That bill focuses strictly on enforcement and would consider undocumented immigrants to be felons. It would also make it a crime for priests, nuns, health care workers and other social workers to offer help to undocumented immigrants.
In Iraq, a top leader has renewed calls for President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair to set a timetable for the withdrawal of occupying troops.
Bush and Blair have long rejected setting withdrawal timetables and vowed to withdraw troops at their own discretion. The two leaders will meet today in Washington with Iraq expected to top the agenda.
In Somalia, an ongoing battle between rival militias has claimed the lives of at least 38 people in the last two days. The US government has been accused of fueling civil war in Mogadishu through its support of warlords fighting Islamic militants.
In East Timor, the government is appealing for foreign intervention to help contain more than three weeks of fighting between the military and a group of dismissed former soldiers. The fighting has killed at least 11 people and displaced thousands of others. Australian troops began arriving earlier today, with Portugal and New Zealand expected to follow by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was in Washington on Wednesday for his first visit since taking office two months ago. In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Olmert addressed the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities.
Meanwhile, a New York Congressmember is claiming victory in his attempt to force the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations to leave the United States. Congressmember Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, successfully added his amendment to the bill banning aid to the Palestinian Authority passed earlier this week. Referring to the delegation, Weiner said: “They should start packing their little Palestinian terrorist bags.”
Telecom spying and media control were the focus of a day of protest around the country Wednesday. Activists in several US cities held rallies outside the headquarters of telecom companies that have become implicated in the NSA spy scandal and that have lobbied against net neutrality. Here in New York, Democracy Now caught up with a protest outside the offices of telecom giant Verizon.
The special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak case has suggested he may be calling a new key witness: Vice President Dick Cheney. On Wednesday, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald indicated Cheney could face questioning over his conversations with indicted chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
The Justice Department is denying a news report it is investigating Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert. On Wednesday, ABC News cited “federal officials” in reporting Hastert was under investigation as part of the corruption probe centered around jailed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Hastert denied the allegations and demanded a retraction.
And Sameeh Hammoudeh has been released from jail. Hammoudeh, a Palestinian living in Florida, was charged as a co-conspirator in the government’s terrorism case against jailed Palestinian professor and activist Sami al-Arian. Hammoudeh remained in prison for months despite having been found not guilty of all charges against him. Hammoudeh was immediately escorted to the Miami airport for deportation to his family’s home in Ramallah, in the Occupied Territories. His deportation came just two days before a court-ordered deadline that would have forced authorities to explain why they were keeping him in detention. Hammoudeh spoke to Democracy Now from his prison cell earlier this month.