At least 12 people have been killed in a shooting attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris. Witnesses say masked gunmen entered the offices of the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and opened fire. Charlie Hebdo has drawn multiple threats for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In 2012, the magazine’s cartoon depicting Muhammad in pornographic poses helped spark protests across the Middle East. The outcry forced France to close embassies and other official sites in 20 countries. Charlie Hebdo has repeatedly claimed it publishes the cartoons as a defender of free expression and against religious extremism. Speaking at the scene of the attack, French President François Hollande said barbaric people had carried out “an attack on free speech.”
The new Republican-controlled Congress has begun with immediate salvos over the Keystone XL pipeline. On the first day of the 114th Congress, Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota introduced a measure to approve construction of the project that would move Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast. But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest immediately announced President Obama would veto the Keystone bill if it crosses his desk.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “I would not anticipate that the president will sign this piece of legislation. We promised — you know, we indicated that the president would veto similar legislation that was being considered by the previous Congress, and our position on this hasn’t changed. Again, there’s a well-established process that should not be undermined by legislation.”
Even if the bill passes and Obama ends up using the veto, Republicans have vowed to make Keystone a top priority in their newfound control of Congress. Their next step could be to attach Keystone’s approval to a wider bill containing measures Obama supports. The White House says President Obama continues to await a State Department review and a Nebraska court ruling on the Keystone XL’s route.
In recent public comments, Obama has voiced increasing skepticism of the Keystone XL, questioning its benefit to most Americans as well as its impact on the climate. Environmentalists have praised Obama’s veto threat. In a statement, the Rainforest Action Network said, “This is a testament to the dedication and resolve of millions of grassroots activists who have for years fought to stop this pipeline, against all odds.” The Center for Biological Diversity added, “It’s encouraging to see President Obama stand up to the bullies in Congress who want to ram this project through. … [H]ere’s hoping this is his first step toward killing this project once and for all.”
As Republicans caught their first glimpse of a showdown with President Obama in the new Congress, they were also locked in an internal struggle of their own. Just after lawmakers were sworn in, House Speaker John Boehner defeated an attempt from dissident Republicans to oust him from his post. Two dozen Republicans voted against Boehner’s speakership while one abstained, the highest number from a speaker’s own party in decades. Congressmembers Louie Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida led the challenge. In response to the failed ouster, Boehner retaliated by removing several lawmakers who opposed him from influential House committees.
Meanwhile in the Senate, 34 senators were sworn in, 13 of them for the first time. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell assumed the job of Senate majority leader.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Today is an important day for our country. Many senators took the oath this afternoon, 13 for the first time, and a new Republican majority accepted its new responsibility. We recognize the enormity of the task before us. We know a lot of hard work awaits. We know many important opportunities await, as well. I’m really optimistic about what we can accomplish.”
In its first vote, the Republican-controlled House approved a major rule change that could make it easier for them to advance tax cuts for the wealthy. The passage of so-called “dynamic scoring” will force congressional statisticians to alter how they calculate the costs of major tax and budget bills. The Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office will now have to weigh the anticipated revenue from potential economic growth that could result from legislation. Democrats have denounced the effort as “voodoo economics” that will hide the actual costs of tax cuts that Republicans want to pass.
In Virginia, former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has been sentenced to two years in prison following his conviction last year on corruption charges. McDonnell and his wife were found guilty of receiving more than $140,000 in exchange for promoting the donor’s products and providing other favors. McDonnell’s two-year prison sentence is far less than the minimum of 10 years recommended by the federal probation office. Speaking outside the courtroom, McDonnell said he regrets his actions — but then announced he would appeal.
Bob McDonnell: “As I said in court, I am a fallen human being. I’ve made mistakes in my life. I always tried to put the best interests of the people first as governor, but I have failed at times. And some of the judgments that I have made during the course of my governorship have hurt myself, my family and my beloved people of Virginia. And for that, I am deeply, deeply sorry. I also want to say that I disagree with the verdict that was rendered by the jury in this case, and that we intend to file our appeal to the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals either later today or in the morning.”
McDonnell was initially offered a plea bargain, but opted instead to go to trial. His defense strategy largely entailed placing the blame on his wife Maureen, who as a nonpublic official could not have been convicted of corruption charges on her own. Maureen McDonnell will be sentenced next month. Bob McDonnell has been ordered to report to prison by February 9.
A gunman has opened fire at a Veterans Affairs medical center in El Paso, Texas, killing a doctor before taking his own life. The shooting sparked an hour-long lockdown. No details about the gunman or the victim have been released so far.
The FBI says it’s investigating a deliberate explosion outside the Colorado headquarters of the NAACP, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights groups. An improvised explosive device was detonated on the NAACP building’s wall in Colorado Springs Tuesday morning. A gasoline can placed nearby did not ignite. No one was wounded in the attack. Authorities say they’re searching for a person of interest in the case, described as a male in his forties.
Around 40 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in a car bombing in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa. A suicide bomber driving a minibus apparently targeted a police academy filled with students and recruits. The attack appears to be the latest by al-Qaeda fighters against Houthi Shiite fighters.
President Obama hosted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the White House on Tuesday amidst a continued political crisis in Mexico over the disappearance of 43 students. Peña Nieto praised Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, while President Obama said he backed Mexico’s drug war.
President Obama: “Our commitment is to be a friend and supporter of Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the scourge of violence and the drug cartels that are responsible for so much tragedy inside of Mexico, and we want to be a good partner in that process, recognizing that ultimately it will be up to Mexico and its law enforcement to carry out the key decisions that need to be made.”
Outside of the White House, a group of demonstrators gathered to call on the U.S. to cut funding to Mexico over its failure to investigate and prosecute abuses by state security forces.
And a Cuban intelligence agent freed by the U.S. last month and his wife have welcomed a baby girl who was conceived during his time in prison. Gerardo Hernández, the father, is one of the three former Cuban intelligence agents released as part of a prisoner swap amidst thawing ties with Cuba. While he was not allowed conjugal visits, Hernández was able to impregnate his wife, Adriana Pérez, by having his frozen sperm transferred to her in Panama. The process was authorized by U.S. officials, funded by the Cuban government and facilitated by a staffer for Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Some have called it the “diplomaculate conception.” Gema Hernández Pérez was born on Tuesday.