Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is scheduled to release the Senate’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act today, pushing for a rapid vote ahead of the July 4 holiday on a bill that was crafted in secret. A draft version of the bill, circulated yesterday and seen by The Washington Post, strongly resembled a House bill that passed narrowly last month. It would see draconian cuts that would slash Medicaid—the federal health program covering low-income and disabled Americans—even more than the House bill, though over a longer period of time. The bill was crafted by 13 Republican men in closed-door sessions. On Tuesday, three Democratic senators visited the Congressional Budget Office demanding to see a copy of the bill, as the CBO works to “score” the legislation to predict its impact on health insurance coverage and the U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, President Trump visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wednesday for a campaign-style event aimed at promoting the Republican push on healthcare. The rally was interrupted by protesters who booed Trump, prompting chants of “U.S.A.!” by Trump supporters. During the address, the president defended his Cabinet—by far the wealthiest presidential Cabinet in history—including billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
President Donald Trump: “And I love all people, rich or poor. But in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense? Does that make sense?”
In privacy news, the Republican National Committee compiled a vast trove of data detailing personal information on virtually every U.S. voter, and then left the information unsecured on the open internet for nearly two weeks earlier this month. That’s according to the internet security firm UpGuard, which reports the RNC gathered more than a petabyte of data—or more than 1 quadrillion bytes of information—on 198 million voters’ addresses, phone numbers, birthdates and social media posts. The data was compiled by the Republican firm Deep Root Analytics on behalf of the RNC and included so-called advanced sentiment analyses of voters’ views on hot-button issues like gun rights, healthcare and abortion. UpGuard discovered the data was available for download from June 1 to 14, meaning it could now be in the possession of hackers, foreign governments or identity thieves.
In newly released video, two military psychologists who helped devise the Bush administration’s interrogation program defend their roles in helping the CIA torture detainees in U.S. custody. On Wednesday, The New York Times published video depositions of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were questioned over torture as part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of several former prisoners. This is James Mitchell being asked about his support for the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.
Attorney: “I mean, you thought waterboarding was a bad thing—was a painful thing, right?”
James Mitchell: “No, I thought it—I thought it could be done safely. I thought he would be uncomfortable. It sucks, you know. It’s—I don’t know that it’s painful.”
Attorney: “Well, I saw an interview”—
James Mitchell: “But it’s distressing.”
Attorney: “I saw an interview with you where you said if it was between somebody breaking their leg and somebody being waterboarded, most people would choose to have their leg broken. Do you remember saying that in an interview?”
James Mitchell: “No.”
The videos’ release came as the Associated Press reported hundreds of accused terrorists have been swept up in a secret network of prisons in Yemen, where U.S. military officials participated in interrogations where torture is routine and extreme. The AP reports one method called the “grill” involved tying detainees to a spit and rotating them over flames like a rotisserie chicken. The Pentagon acknowledged participating in interrogations in Yemen but denied any knowledge of human rights abuses.
In South Sudan, the United Nations says parts of the country are no longer under a famine, but warns the country remains in crisis, with some 6 million residents remaining severely food insecure. This is James Elder, a spokesperson for UNICEF.
James Elder: “It shouldn’t be confused with an end to the crisis. Unfortunately, what this latest data also shows is that 6 million people—that’s more than one in two of every South Sudanese—is struggling to find food every single day.”
The group Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned Wednesday that conflict and drought fueled by climate change have left an unprecedented 81 million people needing food aid in 2017. The U.N. warns three countries remain at risk of famine: Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, where a massive cholera epidemic has added to residents’ misery amid a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign.
In the Gaza Strip, Egypt trucked an emergency supply of diesel fuel to Gaza’s only power plant Wednesday, after Israel further restricted the amount of electricity it provides to the Palestinian territory. The restrictions limited most residents to just two to three hours’ electricity and compounded the misery of nearly 2 million Gazans as summertime temperatures soar. The power cuts left homes dark, spoiled food in refrigerators and led to the release of raw sewage into the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, visited Israel and the occupied West Bank Wednesday in a short, whirlwind visit the White House said was aimed at reviving Middle East peace talks. Kushner was warmly welcomed in Jerusalem by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before traveling to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Kushner’s visit came a day after Israeli bulldozers broke ground on a new Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank. A spokesperson for President Abbas condemned the construction as a violation of international law.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh: “The resumption of these activities is a clear message to the American administration and to the efforts of President Trump. The American envoy is already in the area; tomorrow President Abbas will be receiving him. This is an obstacle to the efforts of President Trump to resume the peace process.”
Jared Kushner’s Israel trip came as Democratic Congressmember Elijah Cummings demanded to know why Kushner still has a top-level security clearance after he failed to report dozens of contacts with foreign leaders—including Russian officials—on his application.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the Chinese government has invited Kushner and his wife, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, to Beijing later this year for an official visit. The invitation came as The Guardian reported Ivanka Trump’s brand continued to order shoes from a factory cited for labor abuses two months after the company claimed it had halted contracts with the manufacturer. The Guardian report comes as three Chinese activists with the group China Labor Watch continue to be imprisoned after they were arrested while investigating labor conditions at the shoe factory.
In Wisconsin, a jury in Milwaukee acquitted a former police officer Wednesday of charges of reckless homicide for shooting and killing 23-year-old African-American resident Sylville Smith last August. Body cam video showed Smith fleeing from then-officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown after a traffic stop, before Heaggan-Brown shot Smith once in the arm, then fired a second shot less than two seconds later into Smith’s chest as he lay on the ground. Smith had a gun, but the video shows he threw the weapon away and had his hands on his head when he was killed. The killing sparked an uprising last summer that saw Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker call out the National Guard after local residents set fire to police cars and several local businesses.
In Minnesota, new video shows the 4-year-old daughter of Diamond Reynolds consoling her heartbroken mother, who is handcuffed in the back of a police squad car minutes after St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed her boyfriend, Philando Castile. The video from last July shows Reynolds mourning Castile’s death and cursing, before her daughter Dae’Anne begs her to stop, saying, “I don’t want you to get shooted.”
Dae’Anne Reynolds: “Mom, please stop saying cusses and screaming, 'cause I don't want you to get shooted.”
Diamond Reynolds: “OK. Give me a kiss. My phone just died. That’s all.”
Dae’Anne Reynolds: “I can keep you safe.”
Diamond Reynolds: “It’s OK. I got it, OK? Come here. I can’t believe they just did that.”
The release of the footage came a day after police dash cam video was made public for the first time, showing Officer Yanez fired his gun seven times within moments of approaching Philando Castile’s car over an alleged broken taillight. Last Friday, officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter.
In Arizona, prisoners at a notorious open-air jail known as Tent City have remained sleeping under thick canvas tents this week, even as a record-setting heat wave has pushed temperatures to nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Some 380 prisoners are housed at the jail in Phoenix under a so-called work furlough program, employing them in day jobs under supervision. Many of the jobs involve outdoor manual labor. At night, prisoners return to Tent City, where overnight temperatures this week bottomed out around 90 degrees. Tent City has drawn condemnation from international human rights groups, who say housing prisoners outdoors in the desert is tantamount to torture. Sheriff Paul Penzone promised in April to close Tent City, which has housed as many as 1,700 prisoners at a time.
In the Gulf Coast, Tropical Storm Cindy made landfall in southwestern Louisiana this morning, as forecasters warned the storm could bring up to a foot of rain and deadly flash flooding in places. Cindy was blamed for at least one death in Alabama on Wednesday.
The storm’s landfall comes just a day after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve former Alabama emergency manager Brock Long as head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His confirmation came more than 150 days into Trump’s presidency and three weeks into this year’s hurricane season. President Trump has yet to name administrators to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—two agencies that play a major role in tracking storms and climate change.
And in Detroit, Michigan, a judge has dismissed all charges against water rights activists known as the “Homrich 9,” finding they were denied their right to a speedy trial after prosecutors spent nearly three years pursuing misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges against them. In July of 2014, the activists peacefully blockaded a facility run by the contractor Homrich, which was hired by Detroit to cut off the water to thousands of homeowners who were behind on their bills. The shutoffs came as the city more than doubled the price of water over a decade and as Detroit suffered through what was then the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.