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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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President Trump has announced he’s directing the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency—walking back his plans, announced in August, to declare it a more serious “national emergency.” The shift means the federal government will not, as of now, direct any new federal funds to address the opioid crisis, which killed 64,000 Americans last year. This is Trump.
President Donald Trump: “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.”
We’ll have more on Trump’s announcement and the opioid crisis later in the broadcast.
On Capitol Hill, the House narrowly approved a budget plan that will allow Republican lawmakers to push through President Trump’s tax bill without the support of a single Democrat. Trump’s proposed tax overhaul would shower billions of dollars in tax cuts upon the wealthiest Americans—including President Trump’s family and members of his administration. Republicans are now vowing to introduce the tax bill as early as November 1.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are pushing legislation that would prevent President Trump from launching a preemptive strike against North Korea. The “No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea” bill would bar Trump from ordering an attack on North Korea without first seeking congressional authority. The bill comes amid mounting tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, with President Trump repeatedly threatening to “totally destroy” all of North Korea—a country of 25 million people.
The federal government has just released thousands of formerly secret CIA and FBI files on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Historians are now reviewing the documents. Some of the preliminary revelations include a 1975 document that details multiple CIA plots to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro under the Kennedy administration, including working with mobsters to poison Castro with a pill. The federal government was expected to finally release all of the Kennedy assassination documents, but in a chaotic late-night move, Trump ended up blocking the release of some of the documents, under pressure from intelligence agencies. Other parts of the released files ended up being redacted. The final files are now expected to be released in April.
President Trump reportedly intervened to instruct the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an undercover FBI informant who investigated the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia’s atomic energy agency, Rosatom, when Obama was president. This sale is now facing increasing scrutiny, after it surfaced recently that the FBI was investigating a U.S. subsidiary of Rosatom for racketeering and extortion at the time the Obama administration approved the sale.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that the United States is seeking a future Syria without Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Speaking after his talks with U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Tillerson said, “We do not believe that there is a future for the Assad regime and Assad family. The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.” Another round of U.N.-backed peace talks on the ongoing Syrian conflict are slated to resume next month.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is calling on the Spanish Senate to approve his plan to seize direct control of the northeastern region of Catalonia and fire its leader, Carles Puigdemont, and all regional ministers. If the Senate approves the use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, Spain could also take over Catalonia’s police, public media and finances. On Thursday, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont ruled out holding snap elections to diffuse the crisis. This is 16-year-old Paula Perez, speaking Thursday.
Paula Perez: “We don’t know right now what is going to happen, because the situation we are living in is very chaotic. But we will continue waiting to see what will happen.”
In Kenya, at least four people were killed amid clashes during Thursday’s contested presidential election rerun. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to win the re-election, after his opponent, opposition leader Raila Odinga, boycotted the vote when his demands for changes to the electoral process were not met. This is Joseph Ouma, whose brother was wounded in the clashes.
Joseph Ouma: “We were not being violent. We just barricaded the road to prevent ballot boxes from getting to the polling center. We decided to protest because we didn’t want voting to take place here. Then the police came and shot my brother. They were shooting live bullets into the crowd.”
Back in the United States, actress Selma Blair has accused disgraced filmmaker James Toback of threatening to kill her if she publicly accused him of sexual harassment. More than 200 women, including Blair, have now accused Toback of sexual harassment. Blair says Toback harassed her in 1999, trapping her in a hotel room and then masturbating in front of her. Afterward, she says, he told her, “There is a girl who went against me. She was going to talk about something I did. I am going to tell you, and this is a promise: If she ever tells anybody, no matter how much time she thinks went by, I have people who will pull up in a car, kidnap her and throw her in the Hudson River with cement blocks on her feet. You understand what I’m talking about, right?”
The director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, testified before a House subcommittee Thursday, where he was grilled by lawmakers about his move to personally intervene to try unsuccessfully to stop a detained undocumented teenager from having an abortion. The teenager was only able to access the abortion this week, after suing the Trump administration and fighting for a month. This is Lloyd being questioned by Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “Do you believe that a woman’s constitutional right to abortion depends on her immigration status?”
Scott Lloyd: “I think the—any entry into the United States”—
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “It’s a yes-or-no question, Mr. Lloyd. Do you believe that a woman’s constitutional right to abortion depends on her immigration status? Yes or no?”
Scott Lloyd: “A number of rights—a number of”—
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “That is not a yes-or-no question—that is not a yes-or-no answer, Mr. Lloyd.”
Scott Lloyd: “Well, my answer is that any number of rights depend on where they stand in terms of our immigration system.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “I do not understand that answer. Is that a yes or a no? I’ll take that as a no. So, do you believe that immigrants have constitutional rights?”
Scott Lloyd: “Once again, ma’am, if somebody wants to come into the United States and”—
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “I’ll take that as a no. Mr. Lloyd, do you have medical training of any kind?”
Scott Lloyd: “I am—if I—if I need advice regarding any medical situation regarding any of the populations I serve, I consult the medical team who works on my staff.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “So the answer is, no, you don’t have medical training of any kind.”
Scott Lloyd: “No, I don’t.”
That was Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, questioning the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd.
In Texas, a mother is demanding immigration authorities release her daughter—a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was detained by Border Patrol agents after undergoing surgery on Tuesday. The girl, Rosa Maria Hernandez, has been living in the United States since she was three months old, when her parents moved the family to the U.S. in order to access better medical care for Rosa. On Tuesday, she and her cousin were traveling from Laredo, Texas, to a hospital in Corpus Christi, when they were stopped at a border checkpoint. Border Patrol agents then traveled with Rosa to the hospital and then detained her—at the hospital—once the surgery was over. She is currently being held in a children’s shelter in San Antonio, Texas.
And award-winning indigenous journalist Mark Trahant has quit his teaching job at the University of North Dakota after the university blocked him from teaching a lecture series on the indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline. Professor Trahant is the author of multiple books on indigenous history and resistance and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe in Idaho and the former president of the Native American Journalists Association. He says he quit after his two separate proposals to focus on the professional and social media coverage of the resistance movement at Standing Rock were rejected by the university.