U.S. warships fired a barrage of missiles into Syria Thursday evening, in the first direct U.S. assault on the Syrian government since the start of the civil war six years ago. The Pentagon said a pair of naval destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in Homs province. Syria’s government said the strikes killed six people, and condemned the U.S. attack as an “act of aggression.” In a short address from the Trump Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Palm Beach, Florida, President Donald Trump said the assault was retribution for a Syrian chemical weapons attack earlier this week that killed 86 civilians, including 30 children.
President Donald Trump: “Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
The Pentagon says it targeted its missiles to avoid Syrian chemical weapons storage sites, as well as Russian troops and aircraft. Russia’s Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the U.S. assault on Syria’s government, saying it threatened international security. Russia said it would bolster air defenses across Syria and suspend its “deconfliction agreement,” which prevents Russian and U.S. planes from coming into conflict over Syria. This is Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
Maria Zakharova: “Without bothering to understand what’s happened, the United States resorted to a demonstration of force, to military confrontation with a country that is fighting international terrorism. It is not the first time the United States of America has demonstrated such a careless approach. It only worsens the problems already existing in the world and poses a threat to international security.”
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a trip in January, warned the attack could escalate to a nuclear war, saying, “It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government.” We’ll have more on President Trump’s attack on Syria after headlines.
On Capitol Hill, Senators voted along party lines Thursday for a historic rule change that will allow Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by a simple majority. The 52-48 vote ended a Democratic-led filibuster aimed at blocking Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation, clearing the way for a Senate vote today on President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the move was necessary to break a stalemate.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: “Our Democratic colleagues appear poised to block this incredible nominee with the first successful partisan filibuster in American history. It would be a radical move, something completely unprecedented in the history of our Senate.”
McConnell’s comments came more than a year after he led his Senate colleagues on a campaign to refuse to even consider President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. Democrats quickly condemned the move by their Republican colleagues to end the filibuster in Supreme Court confirmations—the so-called nuclear option. This is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “The nuclear option means the end of a long history of consensus on Supreme Court nominations. It weakens the standing of the Senate as a whole, as a check on the president’s ability to shape the judiciary. In a post-nuclear world, if the Senate and the presidency are in the hands of the same party, there’s no incentive to even speak to the Senate minority. That’s a recipe for more conflict and bad blood between the parties, not less.”
A final confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch is set for today. He’s expected to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, replacing Justice Antonin Scalia nearly 14 months after Scalia’s death.
House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes said Thursday he’s recusing himself from an investigation into Russia’s alleged ties to Trump associates and Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. Nunes’s announcement came shortly before the House Ethics Committee said it was investigating whether Nunes illegally made classified information public. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that Nunes had done nothing wrong, but said he welcomed Nunes’s decision to step aside.
Speaker Paul Ryan: “It is clear this process would be a distraction to the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in our election. So Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this particular probe, and I fully support his decision.”
Last week, The New York Times revealed White House officials met secretly with Nunes to show him classified U.S. intelligence reports detailing how Trump associates were “incidentally” swept up in surveillance carried out by American spy agencies as they conducted foreign surveillance. On the day after the secret meeting, Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team, held a press conference and then traveled back to the White House to supposedly brief the president about the documents the president’s own staff had given him.
Nunes’s recusal came after President Trump told The New York Times Wednesday—without evidence—that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice committed a crime when she unmasked the names of Trump associates whose communications were swept up by U.S. intelligence agencies. At the time, Rice had the authority to internally reveal such names. Rice has denied leaking the names of any Trump associates, and there’s no evidence she violated U.S. surveillance laws.
In Florida, President Donald Trump welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Trump Mar-a-Lago golf resort Thursday for two days of talks centered on trade and North Korea’s nuclear program. Over a steak dinner, Trump praised President Xi, saying in brief remarks the pair had “developed a friendship.” On the campaign trail, Trump bashed China’s trade policies, once accusing China of “raping” the United States.
In environmental news, the EPA plans to slash funding to programs aimed at protecting children and pregnant women from exposure to lead—a neurotoxin known to cause brain damage. The Washington Post reports the move would eliminate 70 EPA jobs while cutting nearly $17 million from the programs, which provide public education about the dangers of lead, as well as training to lead remediation workers. An estimated 38 million U.S. homes contain lead-based paint, with lead poisoning hitting communities of color the hardest.
The Bureau of Land Management has debuted a new cover photo for its website: a towering pile of coal. The 2004 photograph was supplied by the Peabody Coal Company. It shows an 80-foot coal seam at an open-cut coal mine. Until recently, the BLM website’s main photograph showed two boys wearing backpacks gazing across a wild landscape of rolling hills. The website’s new look came a week after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted an Obama-era ban on coal mining leases on federal land.
In South Sudan, refugees fleeing civil war say government soldiers indiscriminately killed civilians, slitting the throats of adults, running down children with a vehicle and shooting those who tried to flee. Hundreds of survivors recounted the violent scenes as they fled toward relative safety in Uganda.
Password Okot: “I had two brothers. One of them was arrested by the soldiers and slaughtered for no reason. The other one was trying to flee but was shot dead. I don’t even know what to do with their widows and children.”
Reuters said at least 17 people were killed by government soldiers, while some 3,000 refugees crossed into Uganda this week. South Sudan has been wracked by civil war since 2013, and the U.N. says parts of the country have entered a famine, with 100,000 people at risk of starvation.
Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi has denied that members of the Rohingya minority group have experienced ethnic cleansing. The remarks came in an interview with BBC correspondent Fergal Keane.
Fergal Keane: “Do you ever worry that you will be remembered as the champion of human rights, the Nobel laureate, who failed to stand up to ethnic cleansing in her own country?”
Aung San Suu Kyi: “No, because I don’t think there’s ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what’s happening.”
Fergal Keane: “It’s what I think I saw there, I have to say.”
Amnesty International has accused the Burmese military of murdering, raping and torturing Rohingya civilians in an ongoing campaign the human rights group says may amount to crimes against humanity. At least 20,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee into Bangladesh to escape the violence.
In Argentina, workers shut down the capital city Buenos Aires Thursday in a 24-hour general strike protesting government job cuts and the policies of President Mauricio Macri. The strike came as Macri welcomed the World Economic Forum on Latin America to Buenos Aires. This is Argentine opposition lawmaker Alejandro Bodart.
Alejandro Bodart: “President Macri will open the World Economic Forum, and economists from around the world will come. They are all neoliberals. There will also be business leaders, who will discuss how to continue stealing the riches of our people, how to continue with plans to exclude one sector of society so as to enrich the same old ones.”