The Senate has confirmed the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, making her the first Latina to join the Supreme Court. The 68-to-31 vote came mostly along party lines, with just nine Republicans joining Democrats to vote in favor. At the White House, President Obama welcomed the news of Sotomayor’s approval.
President Obama: “These core American ideals — justice, equality and opportunity — are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor’s own uniquely American journey possible. They’re ideals she’s fought for throughout her career and the ideals the Senate has upheld today in breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.”
Sotomayor is set to be sworn in to the Supreme Court on Saturday.
The Obama administration has indicated it could miss a self-imposed January deadline to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Thursday, top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said he can’t “say with certainty” the prison will close on schedule. Brennan made the comments after a speech outlining the Obama administration’s strategy for countering terrorism. Brennan said the US will drop the term “war on terror” in favor of “war on al Qaeda.”
Although Brennan said US counter-terrorism policy is headed in a new direction, a former top counter-terrorism adviser under the Bush administration said the speech heralded no basic change. The former adviser, Juan Zarate, said, “What we are seeing is fundamental continuity with our counterterrorism policy, repackaged appropriately with a new president who has the credibility and stature to reshape the perception of the United States.”
In Honduras, a crowd of more than 2,000 marched on the US embassy Thursday to protest the Obama administration’s refusal to pressure the coup regime. The protest came one day after the State Department said it won’t impose trade sanctions on the coup government and appeared to blame ousted President Manuel Zelaya for his own overthrow. Protest organizer Juan Barahona said the US stance is keeping the coup regime in power.
Juan Barahona: “The government of the United States is two-faced: on the one side, they say they are against the coup, but on the other side, they are supporting it. And that is why the coup leaders are still in power.”
In Afghanistan, five US Marines were killed Thursday in one of the deadliest days for the US occupation in recent weeks. Four of the dead were killed in a single roadside bombing near Herat. Earlier today, three British troops were killed in southern Afghanistan, bringing the toll for foreign troops in the first week of August to eighteen.
Meanwhile, the US is being accused of killing five Afghan civilians in an air strike earlier this week. The US said the victims were militants loading weapons onto a vehicle. But Afghan witnesses said the dead were farmers loading produce.
Aides to the Taliban leader in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud, are claiming he was killed in a US drone attack earlier this week. Mehsud was reportedly undergoing medical treatment at a relative’s home in South Waziristan when US missiles struck. Mehsud has been accused of organizing scores of attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The US has pledged increased support for the Somali government in its conflict with Islamist rebels. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. Clinton also warned Somalia’s neighbor Eritrea against support for the militant group al-Shabab.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Making it very clear that their actions are unacceptable, their interference with the rights of the Somali people to determine their own future are the height of misplaced efforts and funding, and we intend to take action if they do not cease.”
Clinton meanwhile also signaled a potential shift in US opposition to the International Criminal Court. Speaking at a public forum in Nairobi, Clinton said she feels “great regret” the US is not a signatory.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Well, that is a great regret, but it is a fact that we are not yet a signatory, but we have supported the work of the court and will continue to do so under the Obama administration.”
Unidentified: “But you wish we were a signatory?”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Well, I think we could have worked out some of the challenges that are raised concerning our membership by our own government, but that has not yet come to pass.”
Back in the United States, a new study says the number of Americans owing more than their home is worth will see a major rise in the next two years. According to Deutsche Bank, 48 percent of homeowners will have mortgages surpassing their home value by 2011, up from 26 percent this year.
Meanwhile, a leading congressional Democrat has been found to have received loans from a mortgage company he refused to subpoena as chair of a key House panel. The Wall Street Journal is reporting Edolphus Towns, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, obtained a loan from Countrywide Financial, which played a major role in the subprime crisis. Towns received the loans under Countrywide’s ”VIP” program, which gave select customers loans at better rates than the general public. In June, Towns rejected calls to subpoena Countrywide to disclose the recipients of its preferred loans.
Federal jurors have convicted former Democratic Congressman William Jefferson on eleven of sixteen counts in a corruption case. In 2005, the FBI raided Jefferson’s Capitol Hill home and found $90,000 wrapped in foil and stuffed in food containers in a freezer. Jefferson faces up to 150 years in prison when he’s sentenced in October.
A Washington, DC lobbying firm has admitted a scandal involving forged letters opposing the House climate change bill is wider than previously known. Earlier this week, the lobbying firm Bonner & Associates admitted that an employee had sent letters to Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello of Virginia that appeared to be from members of the NAACP and the Latino organization Creciendo Juntos. The letters urged Perriello to vote against the climate bill in order to protect minorities from higher energy bills. Bonner has now admitted that six other letters were sent to two other Democratic Congress members, Chris Carney and Kathy Dahlkemper, both of Pennsylvania.
Congressional Democrats say they won’t be bound by secret deals between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry to reduce costs under healthcare reform. The Obama administration admitted this week it promised to oppose proposals to let the government negotiate drug prices and extract additional savings from drug companies. In return, drug companies pledged to reduce costs by $80 billion. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her opposition to the secret agreements, saying lawmakers won’t be forced into accepting their terms.
Also Thursday, Pelosi said a series of protests at Democrat-sponsored healthcare forums won’t derail congressional efforts to reform healthcare. Protesters have turned up at public meetings held by Democratic lawmakers across the nation to protest proposals for a government-run health option. Democrats say some of the protests have been orchestrated by operatives for right-wing groups. On Thursday, a forum with Democratic Congress member Kathy Castor in Tampa was described as turning into a near riot.
New figures show the number of Americans receiving food stamps continues to top record highs. On Thursday, the government said 34.4 million people, or one in nine Americans, are now receiving food stamps.
And a new study shows climate change is melting US glaciers at a record pace. The US Geological Survey says the melt rate of three key glaciers in Alaska and Washington state were found to have sharply risen in the last ten to fifteen years.