A federal judge in Hawaii dealt another blow on Wednesday to President Trump’s attempt to ban refugees and travelers from six majority-Muslim countries. District Judge Derrick Watson extended a nationwide halt on Trump’s executive order, which would bar citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days—and all refugees for 120 days. In his ruling, Judge Watson said Trump’s executive order ran afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which bars discrimination on religious grounds.
In North Carolina, state Republican lawmakers say they’ve struck a deal to overturn a law denying transgender people the use of the bathroom, changing room or locker room that matches their gender identity. But LGBTQ groups say the planned repeal of HB 2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” won’t end discrimination. The deal would allow the state to continue regulating bathrooms while barring local governments from enacting their own anti-discrimination laws until late 2020. Human Rights Campaign said in a tweet, “Any NC lawmaker who supports this bad #HB2 'deal' is no ally of LGBTQ people & will have planted themselves on the wrong side of history.” The deal came hours ahead of a deadline set by the NCAA to repeal the law or face an end to collegiate athletic tournaments—including lucrative men’s basketball games—through 2022. It’s not clear whether the compromise deal will prevent an NCAA boycott.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to hold its first hearing today on alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election. On Wednesday, Republican committee chair Richard Burr promised a thorough investigation.
Sen. Richard Burr: “Tomorrow’s hearing, which will be the first public hearing that we’ve held, is to examine Russian capabilities, their capabilities to influence elections globally; what Russia has done in the past, which is important for us to bring to light for the American people; what they’re doing today, both here and throughout the world.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to question 20 witnesses about Russia’s role in November’s election and alleged ties between top Trump aides and Russian officials. The Senate investigation came as an investigation in the House Intelligence Committee ground to a halt after the committee’s chair, Republican Devin Nunes, refused to step down amid charges he colluded with the Trump administration to undermine the investigation.
The White House said Wednesday President Trump’s daughter Ivanka will officially join the administration as a federal employee and unpaid adviser to the president. The move came after ethics groups blasted the administration for arranging a West Wing office and security clearance for Ivanka Trump, who previously had no official role in the administration and had not signed an ethics pledge required of federal employees. This month, Ivanka handed over day-to-day control of her company to a top executive, but critics say she continues to hold power over her business and could use her position in the White House for personal gain. Ivanka Trump will work alongside her husband, Jared Kushner, who serves as senior adviser to the president.
Meanwhile, Kushner’s real estate firm on Wednesday said it had ended talks with a Chinese company to develop a Manhattan high-rise at 666 Fifth Avenue. The deal would have seen a $400 million payout from a firm with deep ties to the Chinese power structure. The talks collapsed as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepared to question Kushner about meetings he arranged at Trump Tower last December with the Russian ambassador and the head of the U.S.-sanctioned Russian state bank. The meetings came before Donald Trump’s inauguration, but after his election victory.
The White House sent mixed signals Wednesday about whether President Trump will try again to revamp the nation’s healthcare system, following the collapse last week of a House bill that would have repealed parts of the Affordable Care Act. This is President Trump speaking Tuesday evening at the White House.
President Donald Trump: “I know that we’re all going to make a deal on healthcare. That’s such an easy one. So I have no doubt that that’s going to happen very quickly. I think it will, actually. I think it’s going to happen, because we’ve all been promising—Democrat, Republican—we’ve all been promising that to the American people.”
On Wednesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said President Trump was joking when he made those remarks, adding that another effort at passing healthcare legislation remains an “ongoing discussion.”
Meanwhile, President Trump is calling for even deeper cuts to the National Institutes of Health, after proposing a 20 percent cut to the agency in his budget proposal earlier this month. On Tuesday, the president suggested slashing $1.2 billion from the NIH immediately. The cuts would halt medical research already underway, end the State Department’s Global Health Security fund, and shave tens of millions of dollars from programs combating HIV/AIDS and teen pregnancy.
A new Gallup poll shows President Trump’s approval rating has fallen to 35 percent, the lowest level ever recorded for a president this early into a first term. Trump’s approval rating is now lower than President Nixon’s during the Watergate hearings, President Reagan’s during the Iran-Contra investigation and President George W. Bush’s rating after Hurricane Katrina.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a vote on April 7 on whether to confirm Neil Gorsuch as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to filibuster the vote, setting up a confrontation with Republicans, who have threatened to change Senate rules to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed by a bare majority, rather than 60 senators.
In Iraq, a suicide truck bomb struck a police checkpoint south of Baghdad Wednesday, killing 17 people and wounding about 40 others. Meanwhile, fighting raged in western Mosul, where civilians remain trapped amid fighting by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and ISIS. On Wednesday, the head of U.S. Central Command admitted to a House committee the United States probably played a role in the deaths of as many as 200 civilians in an airstrike on Mosul on March 17. At the White House, President Trump said Tuesday evening the battle to retake Mosul was going well.
President Donald Trump: “We’re doing very well in Iraq. Our soldiers are fighting and fighting like never before, and the results are very, very good.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International continues to criticize the U.S.-backed Iraqi Army for having told civilians to stay in Mosul amid the months-long ongoing offensive rather than to flee. We’ll have more on the crisis in Iraq after headlines.
The State Department told Congress Wednesday that human rights concerns should not hold up a proposed $5 billion sale of F-16 warplanes to the kingdom of Bahrain, despite a record of torture and killings by the security forces. The move by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reverses an Obama administration policy tying weapons sales to improvements in Bahrain’s human rights record. Bahrain is a close U.S. ally in the Gulf, home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
The Westinghouse Electric Company filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, in a major blow to the nuclear power industry. The Chapter 11 filing came as Westinghouse reported huge cost overruns in its efforts to build new nuclear reactors in South Carolina and Georgia. Regulators are now questioning whether the plants will ever be completed. Westinghouse technology is used in more than half the world’s nuclear power plants. The company’s bankruptcy comes as the cost of electricity from solar and wind farms continues to drop.
In California, hundreds of protesters confronted the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tuesday as he appeared at a town hall meeting in Sacramento. ICE Director Thomas Homan was invited to the forum by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a Trump supporter who backs cooperation between police and ICE agents. Among those protesting was Bernard Marks, an 87-year-old Auschwitz Holocaust survivor who compared ICE’s actions to Nazis.
Bernard Marks: “When I was a little boy in Poland, for no other reason but for being Jewish, I was hauled off by the Nazis. And for no other reason, I was picked up and separated from my family, who was exterminated in Auschwitz. And I am a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. … You stand up here, Mr. Jones. Don’t forget. History is not on your side.”
One man was escorted out of the town hall after protesting a statement by Director Homan that ICE agents don’t target immigrants at churches and schools.
In Tacoma, Washington, undocumented DREAMer Daniel Ramirez Medina was granted bond Wednesday and released from an immigration detention center after six weeks in ICE custody. Ramirez was arrested in February along with his father, who’s an undocumented Mexican immigrant. Ramirez’s case drew alarm in immigrant communities, since the 23-year-old has permission to live and work in the United States under President Obama’s DACA program.
Employees at the Department of Energy’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy were warned this week not to use the phrases “climate change,” “emissions reduction” or “Paris Agreement” in official communications. That’s according to Politico, which reported Wednesday that a supervisor prohibited the terms as President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday dismantling a number of climate rules established by President Obama.
On Capitol Hill, the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting defended the federally funded nonprofit Wednesday against President Trump’s call to eliminate funds to the agency. This is Maryland Republican Rep. Andy Harris, who accused the corporation of political bias after the documentary “The New Black,” by director Yoruba Richen, aired on Maryland PBS stations.
Rep. Andy Harris: “It was called 'The New Black.' It says, quote—this is from their website—and I’m now—I’m going to get to the agenda issue. It says, 'This film documents the political race for marriage equality in Maryland from the perspectives of LGBTQ African Americans, their supporters and those who are against marriage equality.' I know a lot of people who don’t like the term 'marriage equality.'”
CPB President Pat Harrison warned that President Trump’s proposed cuts would “destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions.” Trump has also proposed zero funding the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In Mexico, journalist Armando Arrieta was hospitalized Wednesday with severe injuries after he was shot four times as he arrived at his home in the state of Veracruz. The shooting came less than a day after an unknown assailant shot and killed a bodyguard for another Mexican journalist—Julio Omar Gómez—after his home in Baja California was set on fire. There have been at least five attacks on Mexican journalists so far this month, and Mexico’s Human Rights Commission says over 120 journalists have been killed since 2000.
And in Puerto Rico, thousands of students at the territory’s largest public university launched a one-week strike Tuesday. The students are protesting plans by a federally appointed oversight control board to cut $450 million from the university’s budget to help pay the island’s debt to bondholders. This is psychology professor Mariolga Reyes Cruz.
Mariolga Reyes Cruz: “But really, the only ones who have being able to stop us and to make us think and address that crisis have been the students. A shutdown is not only a reaction to the situation, but it is also necessary to be outside of our daily routines and 'business as usual,' so we can have conversations and take on concrete actions.”
The striking students are demanding reforms including an end to budget cuts, no tuition increases, and an independent audit of Puerto Rico’s debt.