Republicans in the newly sworn-in 115th Congress moved swiftly on Wednesday to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature healthcare law. By a vote of 51 to 48, the Senate approved a procedural measure clearing a way for a budget resolution that could repeal major sections of the law. The charge was led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who admitted that Republicans have not yet decided how to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence: “The architecture of the replacement of Obamacare will come together, as it should, through the legislative process in the weeks and months ahead. But the American people voted for change in November, and the president-elect and I, working with the leaders of the House and Senate, are determined to keep our promise to the American people. And that all begins with repealing and replacing the failed policy of Obamacare.”
President Obama made a rare trip to Capitol Hill, where he told minority Democrats not to help Republicans pass replacement measures he called “Trumpcare.” At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Republican plan would have devastating consequences.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “Twenty-two million people are going to lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. It’s going to rip a hole in the deficit, in the federal budget, and the deficit will go up, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. That’s not just my conclusion; you can ask the CBO about that.”
Senate Republicans are seeking to end billions of dollars in federal subsidies to states that have expanded Medicaid, as well as subsidies for private health coverage through health insurance exchanges. Some provisions—like a ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions—would likely be unaffected by a repeal.
On the Senate floor, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders displayed a giant printout of a Donald Trump tweet, calling on the president-elect to make good on a campaign promise not to cut Social Security or healthcare entitlements. Trump’s tweet, from May of 2015, read, “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” This is Senator Sanders.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “If he was sincere, then I would hope that tomorrow, or maybe today, he could send out a tweet and tell his Republican colleagues to stop wasting their time and all of our time, and for Mr. Trump to tell the American people that he will veto any proposal that cuts Medicare, that cuts Medicaid and that cuts Social Security.”
Donald Trump’s team is planning an overhaul of the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported Wednesday the changes are aimed at limiting the power of the spy agencies. The plan includes cuts to CIA staffing at its Virginia headquarters, while moving more employees to field operations. The move comes after Trump repeatedly mocked the CIA over its assessment that Russian hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee and leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign adviser, John Podesta, in a bid to help Trump win the presidency.
On Wednesday, Donald Trump cited an interview with Julian Assange, conducted by Sean Hannity of Fox News, in which Assange said that Russia was not the source for the mass leak of emails.
Julian Assange: “We have said repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government, and it is not a state party.”
Responding to that comment, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta'–why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” In 2010, Trump had a different view of Julian Assange, calling for him to face the death penalty.
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News is reporting that the FBI did not examine the servers of the Democratic National Committee before issuing a report blaming the leak of John Podesta’s emails on Russian hackers. BuzzFeed reports that so far no U.S. government entity has run an independent forensic analysis on the DNC’s computer system.
Donald Trump has named Wall Street attorney Walter “Jay” Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. As a partner at the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, Clayton gave legal advice to investment banks including Goldman Sachs, Barclays and Bear Stearns—whose collapse helped usher in the financial crisis of 2008. In 2011, Clayton co-authored a report blasting the Obama administration’s SEC over its enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars corporate bribery. Democratic Congressmember Maxine Waters, the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement, “Jay Clayton is just the latest addition to the growing pool of Wall Street insiders that make up the Trump administration. As head of the SEC, Clayton will have the power to carry his pro-Wall Street agenda to the agency that is entrusted with regulating Wall Street.”
In Chicago, Donald Trump’s incoming press secretary drew protests Wednesday over his appearance at a panel discussion on the University of Chicago campus. Sean Spicer was preparing to join former Obama adviser David Axelrod in a conversation at the university’s Institute of Politics, when a protester stood up and accused Spicer of “accommodating fascism.”
Moderator: “Sir, with all due respect, there’s an opportunity for you—”
Protester: “You will be announcing the Muslim registry.”
Moderator: “—to pose questions later on. I’m going to ask, sir—”
Protester: “You will be announcing the roundup of Islam—”
Moderator: “—that you give our guests an opportunity to engage in a conversation.”
Protester: “This is not normal, people!”
Spicer’s appearance at the University of Chicago came despite widespread protest on campus. Last August, the university’s dean of students, Jay Ellison, warned undergraduates, “We do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
In Charleston, South Carolina, convicted murderer Dylann Roof offered no apology and no explanation for his massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in June of 2015, telling jurors he was psychologically fit to stand trial. The comment came as Roof acted as his own attorney in a brief opening statement during the sentencing phase of his trial. Roof faces a possible death sentence after he was convicted in December of murdering nine black worshipers, including Pastor Clementa Pinckney. In their opening statement, prosecutors quoted excerpts of a racist manifesto written by Roof while he was held in a Charleston jail. Roof wrote, “I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. … I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
In Chicago, four people were arrested Wednesday after a disturbing video posted to Facebook shows them torturing a bound and gagged man while shouting, “F— Donald Trump!” The video shows two men and two women—all of them African-American—cutting the man with a knife, burning him with cigarettes and threatening him with murder. The victim was identified as an 18-year-old white man with mental health challenges. The attackers were also teens. The video spawned a backlash on social media, with many white supremacist groups blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the assault. The hashtag “#BLMKidnapping” began trending on Twitter by Wednesday night.
In Rolesville, North Carolina, a police officer has been placed on administrative leave after a viral video showed him picking up a high school student and slamming her into the floor. Fifteen-year-old Jasmine Darwin, who is African-American, said she was trying to break up a fight between her sister and another student when the officer grabbed her, lifted her high into the air and slammed her on her side into concrete. Darwin’s mother said the incident left her daughter with a concussion. The video prompted widespread calls on social media for the officer, Ruben De Los Santos, to be fired.
In Iraq, the United Nations is warning that over 13,000 civilians have fled Mosul over the last five days, after a U.S.-led coalition ramped up its campaign to retake the city from ISIS. The commander of the assault, U.S. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, said he believes his forces might kill or capture ISIS leaders, but he’s unsure whether that includes the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend: “I am sure there are some senior leaders in Mosul still. We would have leaders here controlling this very important battle for them. They do, too. As far as Baghadadi is, I have no idea where Baghdadi is. If you get a hint on where Baghdadi is, please let me know, so I can kill him.”
A military spokesperson said Wednesday the number of U.S. troops taking part in fighting around Mosul had doubled in recent weeks to 450. The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq.
Three Republican senators have introduced a bill that would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—an act that Palestinians say would further doom any chance of a negotiated peace. The bill, introduced by Ted Cruz, Dean Heller and Marco Rubio, would also recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Past presidents have resisted congressional demands to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the final status of which is under negotiation in talks between Israelis and the Palestinians. But Donald Trump has said repeatedly he supports the move.
In Egypt, a leader of the 2011 uprising that toppled U.S.-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak has been freed from prison, after serving a three-year sentence for unauthorized protest. Ahmed Maher is a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which played a key role in the ouster of Mubarak during the 2011 uprising.
Supporters of Leonard Peltier got a major boost this week in their campaign to win clemency for the 71-year-old Native American activist. U.S. Attorney James Reynolds, whose office prosecuted Peltier, added his voice to those calling on President Obama for a compassionate release. Speaking to The Guardian, Reynolds said, “There seems to be no point in taxpayers paying his room and board. It’s time to call it quits.” Peltier is a former member of the American Indian Movement who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. He has long maintained his innocence.
In France, a trial is underway for a French farmer who faces up to five years in prison for helping migrants cross the border from Italy. Cédric Herrou also faces a 30,000-euro fine if he’s found guilty of aiding illegal arrivals. About 300 demonstrators rallied outside a courthouse in Nice Wednesday as the trial got underway. Herrou says he led a team of volunteers who provided food and shelter to the migrants, and accepted no money in return.
Cédric Herrou: “There are rights to be respected. They have to respect the law like I do. I broke the law because these people are pushing me towards illegality in order to protect the rights of these children and these families that I’ve taken across the border. I had to break the law. And if I have to continue, I will continue.”
Last month, Herrou was elected “Person of the Year” by Nice’s main newspaper. He’s the latest to face charges for assisting migrants. Later this week, a court will decide the fate of a man who faces a six-month suspended sentence for giving a ride to three Eritrean women who crossed the border from Italy.