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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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Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday the Senate will vote next week on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement—even though the bill currently lacks enough Republican support to pass. McConnell’s announcement came after President Trump invited all 52 Republican senators to the White House for lunchtime talks aimed at reviving stalled efforts on healthcare.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: “There is a large majority in our conference that want to demonstrate to the American people that they intend to keep the commitment they made in four straight elections to repeal Obamacare. I think we all agree it’s better to both repeal and replace, but we could have a vote on either.”
McConnell’s announcement came as the Congressional Budget Office warned that 32 million Americans would become uninsured over the next decade if Obamacare is repealed without an alternative in place. Seventeen million would become uninsured next year alone. The analysis also found the cost of a medical insurance policy would increase 25 percent next year and double by 2026.
Meanwhile, police arrested 155 demonstrators across Capitol Hill on Wednesday, as hundreds held sit-in protests targeting the offices of all 52 Republican senators. Inside Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s office, protesters chanted, “Kill the bill! Don’t kill us!” as they sat down and refused to leave, before Capitol Police handcuffed them and dragged them away.
Donald Trump convened the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Wednesday, in the face of weeks of controversy, seven lawsuits and new calls for the resignation of its vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Trump said the commission will look into his allegations of voter fraud during the 2016 presidential election. Trump has claimed, without any evidence, that between 3 and 5 million noncitizens voted unlawfully. The commission has been criticized by Democrats and civil rights groups as a vehicle to suppress voting rights. Dozens of state lawmakers and civil rights groups denounced the group after it asked all 50 states to hand over detailed personal information about U.S. voters. At least 45 states and the District of Columbia have refused to fully or partially comply with the request. Thousands of voters reportedly removed themselves from state voting rolls fearing their personal information would be shared with the Trump administration. We’ll have more on President Trump’s election commission later in the broadcast.
President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has confirmed he will speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday in a closed-door session, as the committee investigates whether Russia worked with Trump associates to sway the November election. Later next week, on Wednesday, President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign manager Paul Manafort are scheduled to appear before the committee in open session.
President Trump said Wednesday he never would have nominated Jeff Sessions to be attorney general if he had known Sessions was going to recuse himself from a Justice Department investigation into alleged ties between Russia and Trump associates. The president made the remarks during a wide-ranging interview in the Oval Office with The New York Times.
President Donald Trump: “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have—which—which, frankly, I think, is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I can't—you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair—and that’s a mild word—to the president.”
President Trump also left open the possibility that he could order the Justice Department to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s been assigned to investigate Russia’s role in the 2016 election. This is Trump being questioned in the Oval Office by New York Times reporters.
Michael Schmidt: “If Mueller goes looking at your finances or your family’s finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?”
Maggie Haberman: “Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?”
President Donald Trump: “I would say yeah. Yeah, I would say yes.”
President Trump also characterized a second, previously undisclosed meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany earlier this month as a discussion about “pleasantries” that lasted just 15 minutes. That contradicts reports that the two spoke for roughly an hour.
Longtime Arizona senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been diagnosed with primary glioblastoma, a malignant form of brain cancer. Sen. McCain’s office said Wednesday the diagnosis came after McCain had surgery last week to remove a blood clot above his left eye. McCain is reportedly weighing whether to undergo an aggressive treatment of radiation and chemotherapy, and has not said when he might return to Capitol Hill. McCain’s cancer is the same form that claimed the lives of Senator Ted Kennedy and Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Beau Biden. McCain’s departure last week left Republicans with a narrow, 51-vote majority in the Senate as President Trump pushes for votes on healthcare and tax cuts.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld harsh restrictions against refugees entering the United States while it considers the fate of President Trump’s travel ban. The move will prevent—at least for now—an estimated 24,000 refugees from resettling in the U.S. The high court did uphold a lower court order that will grant exemptions to Trump’s ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim nations to include those with grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives living in the U.S.
In Syria, the Trump administration has ended a CIA program to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad. The program was a central part of President Obama’s Syria strategy. It came under fire when CIA-backed rebels were routed by Syrian forces and as U.S. weapons often wound up in the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. Meanwhile, the journalistic monitoring organization Airwars reports between seven and 12 civilians died in an alleged coalition airstrike on Raqqa on Monday. Airwars reports another attack, in Deir ez-Zor, struck a school and killed three civilians.
In Cameroon, Amnesty International says elite government soldiers fighting Boko Haram militants have for years tortured prisoners at secret bases, including one used by American and French soldiers near the Cameroon-Nigeria border. Amnesty regional director Stephen Cockburn cited more than 100 cases in which former prisoners described being held in agonizing stress positions; tied up and left for days in the open; beaten, drowned, electrocuted, and having had their fingernails pulled out. Cockburn says much of the torture played out at a base in Salak, Cameroon, where U.S. and French troops are frequently stationed.
Stephen Cockburn: “What we are not saying is they have been directly involved in torture, but we are raising serious questions about what was known by these personnel. Did they know that there was torture taking place? Did they know that people were being illegally detained? And if so, what did they do about it? Did they report it to their hierarchy, or did they take measures to prevent it? These are really, really big questions. There are war crimes that are taking place under the nose of international personnel on the base, and this needs to be investigated.”
Among those reportedly tortured were women and children. Amnesty said dozens died from the abuse. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump frequently voiced support for torture, promising to bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.”
In Shenyang, China, foreign correspondents say they’ve been harassed and intimidated by Chinese authorities, after they reported on the recent death of imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu died last week from liver cancer that went largely untreated while he served an 11-year prison term for so-called subversion, for calling for freedom of assembly, expression and religion in China. In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said members who covered Liu’s death were “escorted everywhere by plainclothes men who shamelessly followed them into restaurants and even bathrooms.”
Meanwhile, Chinese government officials have cracked down on the encrypted phone messaging service WhatsApp. Attempts to use video, photo and voice functions on WhatsApp failed across much of China Wednesday. The Chinese government bans thousands of websites and operates the world’s most extensive system of online censorship, in what critics call the “great firewall of China.”
Back in the U.S., in Baltimore, Maryland, one police officer has been suspended and two others placed on desk duty, after newly surfaced body camera video appeared to show one of the officers planting drugs during an arrest last January. In the video, the officer—identified by public defenders as Richard Pinheiro—is seen stashing a soup container in a lot strewn with garbage as two of his colleagues look on. The officer then returns to the site and removes a plastic bag full of white capsules from the container. The officer was apparently unaware of a feature of his camera that stored 30 seconds of extra footage ahead of the moment he activated the device. After the video’s release, prosecutors dropped heroin possession charges against a man who had been held in jail since January.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, newly released transcripts reveal 40-year-old resident Justine Ruszczyk called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault outside her home last Saturday before she was shot dead by an officer responding to the emergency calls. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, officer Mohamed Noor was startled by a loud sound shortly before Ruszczyk approached his police cruiser in her pajamas. Noor, who was seated in the passenger seat, shot Ruszczyk through the open driver’s-side window of the vehicle. Noor has apologized to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, who often went by her fiancé’s last name, Damond. Noor has declined to speak with investigators, and has hired an attorney. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges says that’s left many questions in the killing unanswered.
Mayor Betsy Hodges: “Why did Officer Noor draw and fire his gun? What happened from the time the officers arrived on the scene to when she was pronounced dead? Why don’t we have footage from body cameras? Why were they not activated? We all want answers to those questions.”
Noor is the first Somali-American officer in his precinct. The killing came just weeks after Twin Cities police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on manslaughter charges for shooting African-American motorist Philando Castile in 2016.
And Betty Dukes, a former Wal-Mart greeter who led the largest gender bias class-action lawsuit in U.S. history, has died at the age of 67. Dukes was the lead plaintiff in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a case involving 1.6 million female employees of Wal-Mart who said they were paid less—and promoted less often—than their male counterparts. The lawsuit was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2011 in a 5-4 ruling. This is Betty Dukes, speaking in 2011 outside the Supreme Court.
Betty Dukes: “I brought this case because I believe that there was a pattern of discrimination at Wal-Mart, not just in my store, but I believe it is across the country. Since we have filed our lawsuits in 2001, I have heard from numerous women, telling me basically the same story as mine of disparate treatment in lack of promotion, as well in lack of pay.”