President Trump is heading to Capitol Hill tonight for his first presidential address to Congress, where he’s expected to lay out part of his budget plan. On Monday, Trump proposed increasing the military budget to just over $600 billion—a $54 billion increase—while deeply slashing the budgets of other agencies, likely including the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Separately, President Trump is also expected to sign an executive order today aimed at reversing President Obama’s clean water regulation, known as the “Waters of the United States” rule. The regulation covers 60 percent of U.S. bodies of water and seeks to protect the waters from pollution. The executive order is expected to direct the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to review this regulation and to revise or rescind parts of it that do not promote economic growth.
The Senate has confirmed billionaire Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary in a 72-27 vote Monday. Ross is worth an estimated $2.9 billion. He is one of the richest people ever to hold public office. This is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, speaking out against Ross’s confirmation on Monday.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Mr. Ross is a Wall Street billionaire with a long history of profiting from the suffering of others. He also has shady ties to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. … This is not normal, and it is shameful if we ignore all of it as we evaluate the president’s nominees to critical foreign policy and national security jobs.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and others are mocking President Trump after Trump told a room full of state governors that “nobody knew” replacing the Affordable Care Act would be “so complicated.”
President Donald Trump: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.”
Senator Sanders responded to Trump’s comments during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Well, some of us who were sitting on the Health Education Committee, who went to meeting after meeting after meeting, who heard from dozens of people, who spent—stayed up night after night trying to figure out this thing, yeah, we got a clue. When you provide healthcare in a nation of 320 million people, yeah, it is very, very complicated.”
President Trump has accused his predecessor, President Obama, of being “behind” a series of leaks coming out of the White House. During Monday’s taped interview on “Fox & Friends,” Trump also accused Obama of being behind the mass protests at Republican town halls last week.
President Donald Trump: “I think that he is behind it. I also think it’s politics. That’s the way it is. And look, I have a very different agenda—”
Brian Kilmeade: “But Bush was never—but Bush wasn’t going after Clinton, and Clinton wasn’t going after Bush.”
President Donald Trump: “Well, you never know what’s exactly happening behind the scenes. You know, you’re probably right, or possibly right, but you never know. No, I think that President Obama is behind it, because his people are certainly behind it. And some of the leaks possibly come from that group. You know, some of the leaks, which are really very serious leaks, because they’re very bad in terms of national security. But I also understand that’s politics. And in terms of him being behind things, that’s politics. And it will probably continue.”
That’s President Trump, accusing former President Obama of being behind the leaks coming out of the White House. Yet White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seems to believe his own staff are behind the leaks—and he recently forced them to submit to a random phone check, according to Politico.
Former President George W. Bush criticized President Trump’s “war on the media” in an interview Monday with “Today” show host Matt Lauer.
Matt Lauer: “Did you ever consider the media to be the enemy of the American people?”
George W. Bush: “I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”
During the interview, “Today” show host Matt Lauer also asked former President George W. Bush about Trump’s Muslim travel ban, which temporarily blocked people from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States, before the ban was suspended by the courts earlier this month.
Matt Lauer: “I just want to make sure I understand. Are you for or against the ban? You’re against the ban?”
George W. Bush: “I am for an immigration policy that’s welcoming and that upholds the law.”
Jewish schools and community centers in 11 states were hit by another wave of bomb threats Monday. It marks the fifth wave of threats against JCCs and Jewish schools nationwide over the past two months. At least two Jewish cemeteries have also been desecrated in recent weeks. Over the weekend, as many as 500 gravesites at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were toppled or damaged. While President Trump issued a statement last week decrying the bomb threats after enormous pressure, many say his administration has fostered a culture of hate against Jews, as well as Muslims, that has contributed to the rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks nationwide.
Trump’s Justice Department has dropped part of its legal objection to Texas’s strict voter ID law, which appeals courts have ruled illegally discriminates against blacks and Hispanics and violates the Voting Rights Act. Obama’s Justice Department had sued Texas as part of an ongoing lawsuit against Texas’s 2011 law, which created a list of IDs required to vote that skewed heavily toward IDs carried by whites, such as concealed carry permits, while excluding IDs often carried by people of color, such as government employee IDs and public university IDs. Obama’s Justice Department claimed Texas had a discriminatory intent in enacting the law. But under the direction of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has now dropped the discriminatory intent claim. Sessions has long opposed the Voting Rights Act, and major civil rights groups, including the NAACP, had protested his confirmation as attorney general.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes says he hasn’t found enough evidence of communications between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials to justify appointing a special prosecutor to investigate—even though there hasn’t been an investigation in order to obtain that evidence. Instead, Nunes is trying to shift focus onto the leaks coming out of the White House, calling them “major crimes.” Nunes’ stance puts him at odds with other Republican lawmakers, including former House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, who on Monday called for an independent review.
A new investigation by The Guardian has revealed that leaked court documents allege Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres’s murder nearly one year ago was planned by Honduran military intelligence members who are linked to the country’s U.S.-trained special forces. Cáceres was murdered by armed gunmen just before midnight on March 2, 2016. At the time of her murder, she was fighting hydroelectric dams threatening the ancestral land of the indigenous Lenca people.
The Guardian investigation, published today, reveals that at least two men who have been arrested in connection with Cáceres’s murder, Mariano Díaz and Douglas Giovanny Bustillo, received military training in the United States. Honduran prosecutors say phone records reveal extensive communication between Díaz, Bustillo and a former Honduran special forces sniper who has also been charged in the murder. Prosecutors say this third man, Henry Javier Hernández, may have also worked as an informant for Honduran military intelligence. Prosecutors say one of the messages between the three men even includes a coded reference to a payment for an extrajudicial killing.
In Iraq, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army says it’s recaptured a key bridge in western Mosul, amid an ongoing campaign to retake this side of the city from ISIS militants. Humanitarian aid organizations have issued dire warnings about the safety of the 750,000 people living in western Mosul. The campaign comes as a report issued this month by the Institute for the Study of War is already warning that another post-ISIS insurgency is already forming in Iraq. The report reads, “Early indicators suggest that a post-ISIS Sunni insurgency may be forming in Iraq and al Qaeda is trying to gain traction within it. … The U.S.-backed Coalition has been focused only on eliminating ISIS, not other insurgent groups or the conditions that grow them.”
Unnamed U.S. officials, as well as monitoring groups like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, say a top al-Qaeda leader has been killed by a missile strike in Idlib, Syria. Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was reportedly killed Sunday in an attack that unnamed U.S. officials say was directed by U.S. intelligence agencies. In separate attacks, opposition activists say as many as 11 people were killed Monday night in airstrikes against rebel-held Idlib. The strikes came as another round of talks continue in Geneva aimed at ending the ongoing Syrian civil war.
In Kansas, a white man who is accused of opening fire on two Indian men last week, killing one, appeared in court on Monday via video link on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. Adam Purinton is accused of killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and wounding Alok Madasani last Wednesday after he reportedly yelled “Get out of my country” and then opened fire. New reports suggest Purinton believed the two Indian men were Iranian. A bartender at an Applebee’s where Purinton went after the shooting told a 911 dispatcher that Purinton said he “shot and killed two Iranian people.” Authorities have not yet said whether they are investigating the murder as a hate crime.
At least two black transgender women have been murdered in New Orleans in recent days. On Monday, police say Ciara McElveen was stabbed to death—only two days after 33-year-old Chyna Gibson was fatally shot outside a shopping center. They are the fifth and sixth reported murders of transgender women this year. Earlier this month, 24-year-old Keke Collier was killed in Chicago, and 23-year-old JoJo Striker was murdered in Toledo, Ohio.
And for the first time in the 130-year history of the Harvard Law Review, its president is a black woman. Twenty-four-year-old ImeIme Umana, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, was elected as the president of the United States’s most prestigious law review at the end of January. It’s the most powerful student position at Harvard Law School. Among others who have occupied that position was former President Barack Obama.