Senate Democrats have pushed through a historic rule change that will end the filibustering of most executive and judicial nominees. By a simple majority, Democrats voted to lower the threshold for ending filibusters of presidential nominees from 60 votes to 51 votes. That means a minority vote can no longer block a majority’s support for a nomination. Democrats say they acted to counter unprecedented Republican opposition in recent years — of the 168 filibusters against presidential nominees in U.S. history, half have come against President Obama’s picks. Earlier this week, Republicans blocked a third consecutive Obama nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. At the White House, Obama backed the Senate rule change.
President Obama: “I realize that neither party has been blameless for these tactics. They’ve developed over years, and it seems as if they’ve continuously escalated. But today’s pattern of obstruction, it just isn’t normal. It’s not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to re-fight the results of an election, is not normal. And for the sake of future generations, we can’t let it become normal.”
The new rule change does not apply to Supreme Court nominees or to legislation, as many progressives have urged. In a statement, the group Common Cause said: “The Senate is still broken and the rule change is a small fix for a huge problem. The minority still has the power to use the filibuster to block debate and action on legislation favored by the majority.”
Conflicting reports have emerged of the toll from Thursday’s drone strike on an Islamic school in Pakistan. Anonymous officials say the dead were five members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. But Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan said the attack killed civilians, including children.
Imran Khan: “Four children have been killed. We will release their names. We will even get the pictures.”
Reporter: “But they were students?”
Imran Khan: “Students, we don’t know as yet. Four children have been killed, and two teachers have been killed in this. And there have been several people wounded badly. We want a clear — a clear pronouncement by the American government that there will not be any more drone attacks in Pakistan.”
Khan has vowed to block NATO supply routes until the U.S. pledges to halt drone attacks. The strike in the district of Hangu was believed to be the first outside of Pakistan’s tribal regions.
Tribal elders in Afghanistan are in their second day of a meeting, known as a loya jirga, to decide the fate of a military pact with the United States. The proposed agreement would see thousands of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan after a formal withdrawal next year. Addressing the gathering, Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged there’s little trust between the two governments, but urged support for continued military ties.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai: “My trust with America is not good. I don’t trust them, and they don’t trust me. During the past 10 years, I have argued with them regarding the security of our people and search of our people’s houses, and they have made propaganda against me. Any decision you make here, you should consider the future of your generation’s prosperity and decide based on Afghanistan’s national interest. I once again repeat this, that having relations with the world is for our good and our prosperity. And at the same time, we should have our independence, which is our dignity.”
Karzai triggered a new disagreement on Thursday when he said he would not sign the proposed agreement until after Afghan elections next year. The United States has called for a deadline on signing an Afghan agreement before the end of this year.
Talks between Iran and six world powers including the United States are continuing today in Geneva. The negotiations remain at an impasse on several key issues, including Iran’s demand for recognition of its right to enrich uranium. On Thursday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said major differences remain.
Abbas Araghchi: “I’m not in a position to go into the details of that, but we have some major differences still, and those differences are on every side almost, you know.”
Reporter: “Including sanctions?”
Abbas Araghchi: “On the sanction part, as well, yes.”
The Philippines has increased the official death toll from Typhoon Haiyan to more than 5,200. The Philippines’ National Disaster Agency says at least 5,209 people have died, with many still missing. It is the deadliest national disaster in Filipino history. The number of displaced stands at more than four million, with a million homes damaged or destroyed.
Talks at the U.N. climate summit in Warsaw, Poland, are in their final day. A coalition of environmental groups staged a walkout on Thursday in protest of the failure to reach a binding deal limiting emissions. A new study, meanwhile, shows just 90 corporations have been responsible for nearly two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution began in 1854. According to the Climate Accountability Institute, half of all emissions have been produced in the past 25 years. The top corporate polluters are Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, BP and Gazprom.
In Russia, members of the Greenpeace “Arctic 30” continue to be freed from prison after winning bail this week. The group of 28 activists and two journalists had been jailed for two months for trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic. Fifteen of the 28 people who have been granted bail have been released so far. One activist, Colin Russell, has had his bail denied. As he left prison, British journalist Kieron Bryan spoke to reporters.
Kieron Bryan: “Yes, a step in the right direction. The first smile I’ve had for a while.”
Reporter: “What would you like to say to your family who are watching this?”
Kieron Bryan: “Just that I love them hugely, and I’ve heard some of the things they’ve been doing and all of my friends have been doing, and, you know, they’re keeping you guys on your toes. And that’s exactly what they need to be doing, so thank you.”
The Arctic 30 face charges of “hooliganism” which carry up to seven years in prison. All those released on bail will be forced to remain in Russia until their criminal trial.
Janet Yellen has moved a step closer to confirmation as the next chair of the Federal Reserve. On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee advanced Yellen’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Yellen would become the first woman to head the Federal Reserve.
Alabama has granted posthumous pardons to the remaining three African-American men who had yet to be exonerated for false allegations of rape 80 years ago. The Scottsboro Boys were nine black Alabama teenagers convicted by all-white juries of gang-raping two white women in 1931. Five of the teens were exonerated in 1937 after one of the accusers recanted her story. The Scottsboro Boys’ legal appeals sparked protests against racism and landmark Supreme Court rulings establishing the right to effective legal counsel and barring the systematic exclusion of blacks from juries. Alabama’s Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, which opened in 2010 to honor their legacy, says it will display the pardon certificates beginning next month.