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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a revised plan Thursday to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and is once again facing opposition from within his own party. On Thursday, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky said they would oppose even putting the new bill to a vote. The measure would gut Medicaid by over $700 billion through 2026, while providing massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Republicans are facing sustained grassroots resistance to their plans. On Thursday, 11 interfaith leaders, including the North Carolina NAACP president, Reverend William Barber, were arrested outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office protesting the latest version of the Republican healthcare plan. This is Traci Blackmon, executive minister of justice and witness ministries for the United Church of Christ.
Rev. Traci Blackmon: “I happen to know that the people of Kentucky will suffer if this healthcare bill passes. You may be OK. Your friends may be OK. But the people who put you in office will suffer because of this bill. It is time to stop calling God by other names when you really want to call God capitalism.”
The healthcare fight came as a new investigation by The Guardian reveals tobacco companies have gained unprecedented influence in Washington since the Trump administration came to power. The Guardian reports politicians with deep ties to the tobacco industry now head much of Trump’s Cabinet and the Senate, even as tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed President Donald Trump to Paris Thursday, saying he was prepared to set aside differences over Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord in order to work together on other issues.
President Emmanuel Macron: “I disagree with the way the Paris Agreement and its importance is being interpreted by the U.S. We talked about this disagreement, as we should amongst leaders, before and after the decision taken by President Trump. Should this get in the way of the discussions on all other subjects? Definitely not, under no circumstances.”
Macron said France was on target to increase the size of its military budget to 2 percent of the nation’s economic output—a key demand of Trump to NATO allies. Meanwhile, President Trump floated the possibility of reversing his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.
President Donald Trump: “Yeah, I mean, something could happen with respect to the Paris accord. We’ll see what happens. But we will talk about that over the coming period of time. And if it happens, that will be wonderful. And if it doesn’t, that will be OK, too.”
As Trump and Macron met, hundreds of protesters packed a designated protest area of Paris dubbed the “no-Trump zone.” This is French citizen Lucy Carpenter.
Lucy Carpenter: “We’re just protesting a bunch of the things that Trump has been sort of implementing or standing for that we don’t stand for or don’t agree with, such as the climate change—pulling out of the climate change conference and standing against the rights of immigrants and being misogynistic, being homophobic—all of those things.”
Meanwhile, President Trump was blasted on social media over what many are calling “creepy” and sexist comments about French first lady Brigitte Macron. Video posted to President Macron’s Facebook page shows Trump looking the first lady up and down before commenting, “You’re in such good shape,” and repeating, “She’s in such good physical shape,” adding, “Beautiful.” Trump has a long history of sexist comments. He previously called comedian Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig” and boasted in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” video about sexually assaulting women.
In Washington, D.C., the Education Department’s top civil rights official apologized Thursday after making false claims about sexual assault on college campuses. Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson’s apology came after she told The New York Times, “The accusations—90 percent of them—fall into the category of, ‘We were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title 9 investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not quite right.’” Jackson made the remarks as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with so-called “men’s rights activists” who oppose Obama-era rules cracking down on campus rape. Survivors of sexual assault and their supporters said Thursday the Education Department was failing to take sex crimes seriously. Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center told the AP, “What’s extremely important now is that they do the hard work to counter those sorts of rape myths. They need to explicitly reject them.”
In Iraq, Human Rights Watch has condemned video posted to social media purporting to show U.S.-backed Iraqi soldiers in Mosul executing suspected ISIS fighters. One video shows soldiers in military fatigues kicking and beating bloodied men, before dragging one of them to the edge of a high cliff, throwing him off and then opening fire on him. A second, lifeless body can be seen at the foot of the cliff. Another video shows soldiers gunning down an unarmed man kneeling in front of a car. This week, Amnesty International said the U.S.-led coalition violated international law and may have committed war crimes during the battle to seize control of Mosul from ISIS. The fight killed thousands of civilians, leveled much of the city and forced nearly 1 million residents to flee their homes.
In Syria, the United Nations warned Thursday of a mass exodus of civilians from the city of Raqqa, as a U.S.-supported offensive against ISIS intensifies. A senior U.N. official said fighting has displaced nearly a quarter-million people in the region, most of them fleeing in the last few weeks. Those arriving in camps for the displaced described desperate conditions.
Abo Nasha’at: “I am from Mansoura, west of Raqqa. The shelling didn’t stop, and ISIS wouldn’t let us leave. There was no food, no bread, no drinking water—absolutely nothing.”
The journalistic monitoring group Airwars reported U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in recent days killed at least six civilians in Raqqa and 11 civilians in al-Zaynat village, while at least four civilians died in airstrikes in Deir ez-Zor, with another 30 injured.
In Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vowed Thursday to challenge his conviction on corruption charges, saying he would run for president in 2018. Lula was speaking in São Paulo to his supporters in Brazil’s Workers’ Party.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: “If anyone thinks that this sentence has taken me out of the game, they should know that I’m in the game. They can know that now—I want to tell you, I want to tell my party something that hasn’t been claimed up until now, but I am going to call on the Workers’ Party for the right to make myself a candidate for president in 2018.”
Prosecutors allege a construction firm spent about $1.1 million refurbishing a beachside apartment for Lula and his wife in exchange for public contracts. Lula has called the case against him a “witch hunt” aimed at preventing him from returning to the presidency.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s current president, Michel Temer, is facing his own corruption probe. On Thursday, a congressional committee voted against recommending charges against Temer, even though the president was caught on tape approving hush-money payoffs for a powerful politician jailed on corruption charges. President Temer’s approval rating remains in the single digits, with one recent poll finding just 2 percent of Brazilians thought he was doing a good job. Click here to see our whole interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, about Brazilian politics.
In China, Nobel Peace laureate, human rights activist and dissident Liu Xiaobo died Thursday at the age of 61 as a prisoner at a hospital in China’s northeast. Liu was battling liver cancer that went largely untreated while he served an 11-year prison term for “subversion.” Liu was arrested in 2009 after he co-authored a petition calling for freedom of assembly, expression and religion in China. He previously spent 21 months in prison for taking part in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In 2010, Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Nobel Peace laureate since the 1930s who was unable to receive the prize in Oslo. His lengthy prison terms drew condemnation from world leaders and human rights groups, who say Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to imprison hundreds of activists for peaceful dissent. This is Liu Xiaobo, speaking with PEN America in 2008.
Liu Xiaobo: “We will not yield to the pressure, regardless of whether this pressure on freedom of writing comes from which direction, from the government or from other sources. Secondly, I want to make an appeal again to writers throughout the world, especially writers from free countries, as well as to governments and NGOs, to continue to pay attention to Chinese writers and to their conditions of writing, and thus help them obtain their freedom of writing.”
The Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, dead at the age of 61, dead in prison custody in China.
Back in the United States, a federal judge in Hawaii on Thursday greatly expanded the number of people exempt from President Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority nations. The ruling by District Judge Derrick Watson will allow U.S. entry to aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, grandchildren, cousins and sisters- and brothers-in-law. Judge Watson’s order will also allow entry to refugees who have a formal assurance of placement from U.S. resettlement agencies.
President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One Wednesday night that he hopes to build a transparent wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, in a bizarre statement in which the president warned of the hazard of falling sacks of narcotics. A transcript of Trump’s remarks released by the White House reads, “As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them—they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.” Trump also said he wasn’t joking when he suggested the U.S.-Mexico border wall should be covered in solar panels.
And in Bakersfield, California, a 19-year-old African-American woman says she was beaten by officers and mauled by a police dog last month in a case of mistaken identity. In a video produced by the Bakersfield NAACP posted online this week, Tatyana Hargrove says she stopped for a drink of water near a grocery store when officers approached her and demanded she hand over her backpack. She says an officer named Vasquez arrived on the scene with a K9 police dog and attacked her. A warning to our viewers: Some of the images of Tatyana Hargrove’s injuries in this video are graphic.
Tatyana Hargrave: “He grabbed me by my wrist, like this, and then he grabbed me by my neck, punched me, and then he threw me onto the ground. And then that’s when the K9 came and started eating at my leg. They rolled me around. He put his—Officer Vasquez put his knee in my back, and I told him I couldn’t breathe. And then he put his knee, other knee, in my head, and I told him, 'I can't breathe, I can’t breathe!’ And then I started yelling out, 'Somebody help me! Somebody help me! They're going to kill me!’”
Bakersfield Police called the incident a case of mistaken identity and launched an internal affairs investigation—but only after the NAACP video went viral online. At the time of the assault, officers were looking for a suspect described as a 30-year-old black man with a shaved head and goatee, 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds. Tatyana Hargrove is 19 years old, 5-foot-2, 115 pounds and a woman.