Senate Republicans have moved closer to passing a massive overhaul of the U.S. tax code, which would slash funding for healthcare while showering billions of dollars in tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Wednesday’s procedural step clears the way for a debate on the Senate floor and a possible vote on the tax bill later this week. The plan would slash the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and reduce individual tax rates—though those changes would be temporary. The bill would also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. A different tax cut bill passed the House earlier this month. We’ll have more on the Republican tax bills later in the broadcast.
President Donald Trump drew international outrage Wednesday after he retweeted three violent videos shared by a leader of a far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group based in the U.K. The videos purport to show violence carried out by Muslims. Before Trump retweeted them, they were posted early Tuesday by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the group Britain First. Fransen was arrested just days ago on hate speech charges over an appearance in Belfast last August. She was previously found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment after she verbally accosted a Muslim shopkeeper during a so-called Christian patrol last year in the English town of Luton. Trump’s retweets drew condemnation across the political spectrum in Britain. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is Muslim, said, “President Trump yesterday used Twitter to promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country. Many Brits who love America and Americans will see this as a betrayal of the special relationship between our two countries.” In a rare rebuke, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May said, “It is wrong for the President to have done this.” But May did not rescind her government’s invitation to host President Trump for a state visit.
Two of the videos retweeted by Trump, which were filmed in Egypt and Syria and presented without context, were titled “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” A third video, titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” shows one teenager kicking and punching another. Local media said the assailant was in fact born and raised in the Netherlands. The Dutch Embassy condemned the tweeting of this video. At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was grilled by reporters over the videos.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Look, again, whether it’s a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about. That’s what the president is focused on, is dealing with those real threats. And those are real, no matter how you look at it.”
Reporter 1: “So it doesn’t matter if the video is fake?”
Reporter 2: “Even if it’s a fake video?”
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Look, I’m not talking about the nature of the video. I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing.”
In the U.S., Muslim groups were swift to condemn Trump’s retweets, which drew praise from Trump’s far-right supporters. Louisiana politician and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted, “Thank God for Trump! That’s why we love him!” We’ll have more on Trump’s Islamophobic and racist tweets after headlines with award-winning British journalist and broadcaster Mehdi Hasan.
More women have stepped forward to accuse Matt Lauer of sexual harassment, after NBC News said Wednesday it has fired the longtime “Today Show” host. An investigation by the magazine Variety found Lauer once gave a sex toy to a colleague along with a note about how he wanted to use it on her. Variety also reports Lauer exposed his genitals to a colleague and reprimanded her when she rejected his advances. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports one former NBC employee was summoned by Lauer to his office in 2001. Lauer allegedly locked the door and sexually assaulted her.
Minnesota Public Radio has severed ties with Garrison Keillor, the former host of the popular radio show “Prairie Home Companion,” over what the network called “inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.” MPR did not clarify what allegations Keillor faces. In a statement to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Keillor wrote, “I put my hand on a woman’s bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized.” Keillor was fired less than a day after The Washington Post published his op-ed defending Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, whose political future is in doubt after four women said he had groped or inappropriately touched them. Keillor’s piece was headlined “Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd.”
National Public Radio senior editor David Sweeney has resigned amid allegations he sexually harassed at least three female NPR journalists. Sweeney’s exit comes just weeks after NPR senior vice president for news Michael Oreskes resigned after several women said he kissed them without their consent and stuck his tongue in their mouths.
Meanwhile, lawyers for John Conyers say the 88-year-old Democratic congressmember will not step down amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment. The lawyers told the AP that Conyers is innocent and will fight the allegations “tooth and nail.” Several women have accused Conyers of stripping naked, making unwanted sexual overtures and touching female staffers inappropriately. Last week, BuzzFeed News reported Conyers settled a harassment complaint in 2015, paying out $27,000 to a woman who alleged she was fired after rejecting Conyers’ sexual advances.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case that could determine whether police can access cellphone location data without a warrant. The case, Carpenter v. United States, involves a man who was convicted on burglary charges after police obtained more than 100 days of his cellphone records, which showed his cellphone’s location data placed him at the scene of several crimes. During oral arguments, justices appeared skeptical over the Trump administration’s claims that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy when an individual shares cellphone information with a third party.
President Trump has lashed out once more against Kim Jong-un, in his latest insults directed at the North Korean leader. Trump made the remarks Wednesday as he pitched his tax cut bill in a campaign-style rally in St. Charles, Missouri.
President Donald Trump: “Tremendous, because these massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel—hmm, Little Rocket Man—rocket fuel for the American economy. He is a sick puppy.”
Trump’s latest insults came as his administration promised to further ratchet up sanctions against North Korea over its test launch of a ballistic missile earlier this week.
In Somalia, an investigation by the website The Daily Beast provides new details on how U.S. Special Forces and Somali troops carried out a raid last August in which 10 people were shot dead—including three children—in a village near the capital Mogadishu. The investigation found that U.S. soldiers fired on unarmed civilians, relied on shoddy intelligence and ordered their Somali counterparts to plant weapons by the bodies of the unarmed civilians they had just killed. The Daily Beast also reports that U.S. diplomats pressured Somalia’s government to bury the findings of its investigation into the killings.
French President Emmanuel Macron is in West Africa for a three-day tour. On Monday, Macron visited Burkina Faso—a nation formerly colonized by France—where he promised to declassify documents related to the assassination of former leader Thomas Sankara. Sankara, who was often called “Africa’s Che Guevara,” was killed in a military coup in 1987.
At the International Criminal Court in The Hague, former Bosnian Croat military commander Slobodan Praljak died Wednesday after he drank a vial of poison inside the courtroom. Praljak, who’d been convicted to a 20-year prison term for his role in the Bosnian War of 1992-95, rose to his feet just moments after a judge upheld the sentence.
Slobodan Praljak: “Honorable judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal, and I accept your verdict with utter disgust.”
Presiding Judge Carmel Agius: “Stop, please. Please sit down.”
Praljak then tilted his head back as he drank from a glass bottle, telling the stunned courtroom moments later, “I just drank poison!” He later died at a nearby hospital. It’s not clear how the 72-year-old prisoner might have smuggled poison into the ICC’s courtrooms. In 2013, Praljak was found guilty of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws of war and of violating the Geneva Conventions.
And in Argentina, a federal court in Buenos Aires sentenced 29 former members of the U.S.-backed military junta to life imprisonment on Wednesday, over their roles in carrying out murders during the dictatorship of the 1970s and '80s. Among those sentenced were two former military pilots who led so-called death flights, in which activists and dissidents were thrown from an airplane into the South Atlantic. The ruling was welcomed by members of the group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who rallied near the courthouse in Buenos Aires. This is Taty Almeida, who's spent the last 40 years searching for her daughter, who was abducted by the Argentine dictatorship in 1976.
Taty Almeida: “We are agree that these trials should move forward, in spite of how this government wants to continue putting sticks in the spokes of the wheels of justice. But to hear 'life in prison,' for example, for two of the pilots of the death flights, creates a mix of emotions, which are interwoven. I don’t know if the word is 'happiness,' but, yes, we are celebrating that this is happening.”