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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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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced it will greenlight the final phase of construction for the Dakota Access pipeline, prompting indigenous water protectors and their allies to call for a “last stand” against the $3.8 billion project. In a letter to Congress, acting Army Secretary Robert Speer said the Army Corps will cancel an environmental impact study of the Dakota Access pipeline and will grant an easement today allowing Energy Transfer Partners to drill under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River. The Army Corps also said it would suspend a customary 14-day waiting period following its order, meaning the company could immediately begin boring a tunnel for the final one-and-a-half miles of pipe. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has promised a legal fight. Tribal Council Chair Dave Archambault II said in a statement, “As Native peoples, we have been knocked down again, but we will get back up, we will rise above the greed and corruption that has plagued our peoples since first contact. We call on the Native Nations of the United States to stand together, unite and fight back.” Other indigenous water protectors and their allies have vowed to take direct action to stop construction at the drill pad on the west bank of the Missouri River, less than a mile north of the Standing Rock Reservation. Activists are also planning solidarity actions in cities across North America and beyond. We’ll have more on the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline later in the broadcast.
The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo over the bank’s backing of the Dakota Access pipeline. The divestment legislation was first introduced by Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant in response to the demand issued by indigenous water protectors that individuals, cities and Native American nations cut ties with Wells Fargo and other banks that are investing in the pipeline. The Muckleshoot Tribe in Seattle, the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota have all committed to divesting from Wells Fargo.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has confirmed billionaire Betsy DeVos for education secretary, after a historic tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. DeVos’s nomination has sparked widespread outrage and resistance among education advocates, who are concerned DeVos will move to defund and privatize public education. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She considers education an “industry,” and she’s called the public school system system “a dead end.” DeVos’s confirmation comes after Senate Democrats launched a 24-hour protest debate in efforts to stall the vote as they tried to find a third Republican senator to vote against her. On Tuesday in New York City, public school students who were walking out of class in protest against President Trump reacted to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos. This is high school student Tim Markbreiter.
Tim Markbreiter: “So, just now, actually, just a few minutes ago, there was a tie in the vote for Betsy DeVos, and so Mike Pence got the last vote, because of the tie, and she got confirmed, obviously, because of his conservative agenda, which—I mean, personally, I go to public school, and I think I value the education I get so much, and I’m just stunned that this country, after everything that’s going on and after all the division, that this billionaire woman, who never even went to a public school, got confirmed.”
In a highly unusual move, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a Senate debate Tuesday over the confirmation of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, after Warren read a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King, who was then opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship. This is presiding officer Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines interrupting Warren.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “'It has been a long, up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws'”—
Sen. Steve Daines: “The senator is reminded that it is a violation of Rule 19 of the Standing Rules of the Senate to impute to another senator or senators any conduct or motive unworthy or becoming a senator.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Mr. President, I don’t think I quite understand. I’m reading a letter from Coretta Scott King to the Judiciary Committee from 1986 that was admitted into the record. I’m simply reading what she wrote.”
Senator Warren was then allowed to continue reading the letter, in which Coretta Scott King writes: “The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods. … I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.” After reading the letter, Warren continued speaking, but she was again interrupted—this time by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Mr. President?”
Sen. Steve Daines: “The majority leader.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama, as warned by the chair. Senator Warren, quote, said Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens. I call the senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Mr. President?”
Sen. Steve Daines: “The senator from Massachusetts.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”
Senator Warren is now prohibited from speaking for the remainder of the debate over Sessions’s confirmation, after the Senate passed a party-line rebuke Tuesday against her. Her silencing sparked immediate outrage on social media and from other senators. This is California Senator Kamala Harris.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “Mr. President, the suggestion that reciting the words of the great Coretta Scott King would invoke Rule 19 and force Senator Warren to sit down and be silent is outrageous. I move that the senator from Massachusetts be permitted to proceed in order.”
Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, is facing increasing criticism over his admission that he hired an undocumented housekeeper. Puzder says he and his wife employed an undocumented housekeeper for a number of years and then fired her after learning she didn’t have U.S. work documents. He also says they provided her help in obtaining U.S. documentation. Puzder is the second of Trump’s Cabinet nominees who has acknowledged hiring an undocumented worker. The first was commerce secretary nominee, billionaire Wilbur Ross. Similar practices have led to the rejection of past Cabinet nominees, including two of President Clinton’s nominees for attorney general in 1993. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports Puzder’s chain restaurants Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have been the subject of multiple Labor Department investigations over wage theft, which have led the companies to pay nearly $150,000 in back pay to workers and more than $80,000 in penalties. The companies have also been cited with more than 30 health and safety violations. Puzder is also facing criticism over allegations of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, who even went on “Oprah” in disguise to speak about domestic violence. Puzder’s ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, has now told senators she regrets appearing on “Oprah” and that “Andy and I have since forgiven one another for the hurt we caused each other.”
Meanwhile, yet another one of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is facing criticism and a lawsuit by the ACLU of Oklahoma, which accuses Pruitt of violating the state’s Open Records Act by refusing to turn over documents related to his office’s communications with coal, oil and gas companies, including Koch Industries. Pruitt has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, despite having a long history of being an ally to the fossil fuel industry and having sued the EPA 14 times. His office has acknowledged having thousands of emails related to the records request—but it’s failed to turn over a single one after more than two years.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday on whether to restore President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the United States. The case was brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota. The emergency hearing came just days after a judge in Seattle imposed a nationwide temporary restraining order on the ban. On Tuesday, three judges on the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments via telephone. Two of the judges were appointed by Democrats—Judges William Canby and Michelle Friedland—and one by a Republican—Judge Richard Clifton. We’ll have more on the hearing and the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban after headlines.
President Trump met Tuesday with members of the National Sheriffs’ Association, during which he lied about the U.S. murder rate, falsely claiming it is the highest it’s been in more than four decades.
President Donald Trump: “I’d say that in a speech, and everybody was surprised, because the press doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, from 45 to 47 years.”
In fact, the FBI says the U.S. murder rate is at one of its lowest points in the last 50 years. Trump also repeatedly lied about the murder rate during the 2016 campaign.
During that same meeting, President Trump also threatened to “destroy” the career of a Texas state senator, after Texas Sheriff Harold Eavenson complained about the senator’s proposed legislation.
Sheriff Harold Eavenson: “We’ve got a state senator in Texas that was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money.”
President Donald Trump: “Can you believe that?”
Sheriff Harold Eavenson: “And I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”
President Donald Trump: “Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his
name? We’ll destroy his career.”
Asset forfeiture is a controversial law enforcement practice where police can seize property that belongs to people suspected of crimes, even if they are never convicted. A New Yorker investigation shows local police have, at times, used asset forfeiture as a “cash-for-freedom” deal, in which police seize cash, cars and homes from people who are never even charged with a crime. The proposed legislation would require people to be convicted of a crime before the police are allowed to seize their property.
Yemen has withdrawn permission for the U.S. to carry out special operations ground missions in Yemen, amid outrage over the Navy SEAL Team 6 raid on a Yemeni village that killed a number of civilians, including the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric and U.S. citizen who was killed in Yemen by a U.S. drone strike in 2011. The girl’s grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, said she suffered for hours after she was shot in the neck during the January 29 raid. William “Ryan” Owens, a veteran member of SEAL Team 6, also died during the raid. The White House continues to claim the raid was a success.
And in Japan, scientists say the radiation levels inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are at the highest point since the nuclear plant’s meltdown six years ago. On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, killing 20,000 people. Another 160,000 then fled the radiation in Fukushima. It was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Experts are calling the radiation levels now detected at the plant “unimaginable.”