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The full Senate has confirmed longtime ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. Reuters reports the 56-43 Senate vote was the closest vote—by a wide margin—for a secretary of state nominee in at least a half-century. Three Democrats backed Tillerson’s nomination: Mark Warner of Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Trump’s nomination of Tillerson has been widely condemned by environmental activists. Naomi Klein has said Tillerson and other Trump Cabinet picks represent a “corporate coup.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general in a straight party-line vote. Jeff Sessions’s confirmation has also faced widespread protests over his opposition to the Voting Rights Act and his history of making racist comments. On Monday, about 10 members of the NAACP, including President Cornell William Brooks, were arrested at a sit-in at Sessions’s office in Mobile, Alabama. At Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing in January, protesters wore white, hooded robes and pretended to be members of the Ku Klux Klan. Sessions once reportedly said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” On Wednesday, a protester from the group CodePink disrupted the Senate Judiciary Committee’s meeting.
Sen. Chuck Grassley: “The nomination is approved by the committee and will be a report—will report to the floor. Meeting over.”
CodePink protester: “Shame! Shame! Shame! You have furthered the nomination of a man who will not protect the vulnerable. That’s why we have an attorney general, to protect the vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted committee votes on two of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks: Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Tom Price for health and human services secretary. The committee rules require at least one Democrat present to vote. Republicans on the committee then suspended the rules and voted to send the two nominations to the Senate floor. Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee also boycotted a vote on Scott Pruitt to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Scott Pruitt is a longtime ally of the fossil fuel industry.
In other Senate news, the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary appears to be on thin ice as two Republicans—Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski—announced plans to vote against DeVos, leaving Senate Republicans one vote short of confirming her. If the Senate vote is 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence would then cast the deciding vote—an event that has never happened to any other presidential nominee in history. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She and her husband have also invested in a student debt collection agency that does business with the Education Department.
As for President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump has urged the Republican leadership to consider using the so-called nuclear option—that is, instituting a rule change to prohibit filibusters—to push through the confirmation. Senate Democrats have vowed to filibuster his nomination.
International relations between Trump’s administration and multiple foreign governments deteriorated Wednesday, as Trump’s national security adviser publicly threatened Iran and new information emerged about heated conversations between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia. On Wednesday, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn condemned Iran’s recent ballistic missile test launch and said the U.S. was putting Iran “on notice.”
Michael Flynn: “President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration, as well as the United Nations, as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.”
Many experts, as well as Iran’s Foreign Ministry, say the missile test does not violate the terms of a 2015 U.N. Security Council resolution. The test also does not violate the terms of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and other nations. During his campaign, Trump vowed to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, which he called “the stupidest deal of all time.”
The Washington Post is reporting that Trump abruptly ended a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday after complaining about the terms of a refugee deal between the U.S. and Australia and telling Turnbull that their conversation was the “worst call by far” that he’d had with a foreign leader that day. Under the Obama administration, the United States had pledged to accept and resettle 1,250 refugees from a detention center in Australia. But when Turnbull asked Trump to confirm the U.S. would honor this agreement, Trump reportedly called it “the worst deal ever” and claimed the refugees could include the “next Boston bombers.” The U.S. and Australia have been longtime allies.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting Trump reportedly threatened to send U.S. troops to Mexico during a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday. According to excerpts of the transcript obtained by the Associated Press, Trump told Peña Nieto, “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”
In Delaware, prisoners at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna have launched an uprising, taking correctional officers hostage and demanding improved education and rehabilitation services. The rebellion began Wednesday morning, when some prisoners took four guards hostage and issued their demands. At around 5 a.m. Thursday morning, Delaware state police stormed the building. Authorities say one corrections officer who was being held hostage is dead. This is a phone call from inside the prison Wednesday. Listen carefully.
Prisoner: “Donald Trump, everything that he did, all the things that he’s doing now, we know that the institution is going to change for the worse. We know the institution is going to change for the worse. We’ve got demands that you need to pay attention to. Education. We want education, first and foremost. We want a rehabilitation program that works for everybody. We want the money to be allocated so we can know exactly what’s going on in the prison.”
In North Dakota, 76 water protectors fighting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline were arrested Wednesday, after militarized police raided a new protest camp set up on historic Sioux treaty land. The Last Child Camp was established on the west side of Highway 1806 near the main Oceti Sakowin Camp. The land is now owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline. This is water protector and former North Dakota congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes.
Chase Iron Eyes: “We just established a new camp called the Last Child’s Camp in honor of Crazy Horse, who created that warrior society in 1873.”
Chase Iron Eyes was among the dozens arrested Wednesday. The Army Corps of Engineers appears poised to grant the final permit required for Energy Transfer Partners to finish construction. A group of military veterans, called Veterans Stand, has vowed to stop the construction of the pipeline. Meanwhile, a jury in Morton County has convicted eight water protectors of misdemeanor charges related to the resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline. In more Dakota Access news, a Seattle City Council committee has voted to divest $3 billion in city funds from Wells Fargo, amid concerns about Wells Fargo’s investments in the pipeline. The full Seattle City Council will vote on the legislation Monday.
A mistrial has been declared in the case of environmental activist Ken Ward, who was facing three felony charges and one misdemeanor charge after he shut off a valve on the Trans Mountain pipeline in Washington state to stop the flow of tar sands oil coming into the United States from Canada in October. His action was part of a coordinated protest during which the valves on pipelines in Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota were also shut off. The mistrial was declared after a Skagit County, Washington, jury couldn’t reach a verdict.
In Romania, the minister of business, trade and entrepreneurship Florin Jianu has resigned, after more than a quarter of a million people poured into the streets Wednesday to protest the government’s passing of an emergency ordinance decriminalizing official misconduct. The protests are the biggest in Romania since 1989.
In eastern Ukraine, nearly a dozen soldiers have died in recent days amid a surge in violence between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists. European monitors say there has been heavy shelling since the weekend. The U.S. backs the Ukrainian military with training and equipment.
Israel has announced it’s building an entirely new Jewish-only settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The move marks the first brand-new, official settlement in the West Bank built by the Israeli government in about two decades, although Israeli settlers have built unofficial settlements and the Israeli government has dramatically expanded already existing settlements. Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to begin construction on more than 5,000 housing units in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
In Berkeley, California, white nationalist Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos’s planned speech at the University of California, Berkeley, was canceled amid massive protests. More than 1,000 people came out to demonstrate against Yiannopoulos, who has a long history of making racist, sexist and xenophobic statements. It’s the second time in recent weeks University of California officials have been forced to cancel one of his speeches due to student protests. This morning, President Trump tweeted, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view–NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” The group Refuse Fascism says, however, “People who protest Milo are not opposing free speech, they are opposing a fascist America, which is the actual, real, and gravely serious threat to basic rights of speech, assembly, and intellectual life.”
And President Trump is facing criticism after he appeared to suggest that the great abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery around 1818 and died in 1895, is still, in fact, alive. This is Donald Trump, speaking at a Black History Month event on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump: “I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”
That’s President Trump speaking about Frederick Douglass, one of the most revered abolitionists in U.S. history. Later on Wednesday, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about Trump’s comments. This is Sean Spicer.
Reporter: “About Frederick Douglass being recognized more and more, do you have any idea what specifically he was referring to?”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “Well, I think there’s contributions—I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. And I think, through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”