The Senate has voted to advance a resolution ending U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen. This marks the first time in U.S. history the Senate has voted to advance a bill to withdraw military forces from an unauthorized war using the War Powers Resolution. Fourteen Republican senators joined Democrats in the 63-37 vote. Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee co-sponsored the bill.
Sen. Mike Lee: “This is a war of bipartisan creation. A Democratic president has gotten us involved in a civil war in Yemen. We now have a Republican president; that war has continued. It was started, and it has continued, without the involvement of the Congress, without the approval of the Congress, without a declaration of war or an authorization for the use of military force by the Congress. That’s not OK.”
The Saudi-led war on Yemen has created what the U.N. calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million of Yemen’s 28 million people on the brink of famine. A recent report by the charity Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under the age of 5 have died from acute malnutrition brought on by the war.
Prior to the Senate vote, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a closed-door meeting with senators to defend the U.S. backing of the Saudi war in Yemen. Mattis and Pompeo also briefed senators on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The officials doubled down on the idea that there was no direct evidence tying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Khashoggi’s murder. Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with reporters.
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “We have no smoking gun that the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.”
Reporter: “Have you listened to the tape?”
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “No, I cannot understand that language, but I have spent more than enough time in service of our country. I know what grim circumstances can be. I needed to see what was said, and I read the translations of what is alleged to be the tape. We do not have the tapes. We do not have the tapes. At least I’m not aware that we do.”
Mattis’s remarks come one day after national security adviser John Bolton told reporters he did not plan to listen to the tape of Khashoggi’s murder because he doesn’t understand Arabic. President Trump has also said he won’t listen to the tape, calling it a “suffering tape.” CIA Director Gina Haspel has heard the tape but was reportedly blocked from briefing senators by the White House. The CIA has concluded with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is directly implicated in ordering Khashoggi’s murder. A number of senators called out Haspel’s absence. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina—a longtime time Saudi and Trump ally—said, “This is BS. I want the CIA to come brief me.” He threatened to abstain from any key votes until senators receive a CIA briefing on Khashoggi’s murder.
Senate Republicans have again shut down a vote aimed at protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Republican leadership has repeatedly said that such a bill was not necessary and that Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential elections was not under threat.
President Trump is saying that a pardon of his former campaign chair Paul Manafort was not “off the table.” This comes as Robert Mueller is accusing Manafort of violating his plea agreement by lying to investigators in the Russia probe. The New York Times has also reported that lawyers for Manafort briefed the president at the White House about Manafort’s cooperation with Robert Mueller’s investigators. Some legal experts say this could amount to obstruction of justice or witness tampering.
Tensions continue to escalate between Russia and Ukraine after Russia captured three Ukrainian ships over the weekend. Ukraine has asked NATO and Germany to send ships to the Sea of Azov. On Monday, Ukraine imposed martial law in parts of the country. Meanwhile, Russia reportedly plans to send more long-range missiles to the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: “There is obvious evidence of a provocation prepared in advance and devised as a pretext to impose martial law in the country. It has nothing to do with attempts to settle relations between Russia and Ukraine. This game is meant to increase tensions. This is foul play on internal policy in order to suppress political opponents.”
A Kremlin spokesperson has said that a planned meeting between Putin and President Trump at the G20 summit in Argentina is still set to go ahead Saturday after Trump indicated Tuesday that he may cancel following Russia’s confrontation with Ukraine. Trump is set to arrive in Argentina today.
The Senate has voted to advance Thomas Farr’s nomination for a lifetime federal judgeship in eastern North Carolina. Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 tie after Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona joined Democrats in voting against the former protégé of Jesse Helms. Civil rights groups widely condemned the vote. This is Rev. Dr. William Barber, who spoke to Democracy Now! Monday about Farr’s nomination.
Rev. Dr. William Barber: “Thomas Farr is connected to white nationalism, connected to Jesse Helms. He has been at the forefront of every racist voter suppression law that’s been pushed in this state the last 25 years, and he has lost.”
In other news from Capitol Hill, House Democrats have voted overwhelmingly to nominate Nancy Pelosi to become House speaker, a position she held from 2007 to 2011. She will face a full House vote in January. A number of Democrats had called for new leadership, with 32 members withholding their vote for Pelosi, though she ran unopposed. Democrats also voted to return Maryland Congressmember Steny Hoyer to the post of majority leader and South Carolina’s James Clyburn as the House whip. New York Congresssmember Hakeem Jeffries was elected chair of the caucus, beating out Congressmember Barbara Lee of California. Lee said after the vote that sexism and ageism contributed to her loss.
In Afghanistan, U.S. airstrikes killed at least 30 civilians in Helmand province, according to reports by local officials and residents Wednesday. At least 16 Taliban fighters were also reportedly killed in the attack. Hours later, a suicide bomber and several gunmen launched a coordinated attack near a British security compound in the capital Kabul, killing at least 10 and wounding 19. The attacks came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke at a U.N. meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, where he outlined plans for peace talks with the Taliban.
The number of under- and malnourished people around the world is increasing, due in part to climate change, according to a new U.N. report on world hunger. Around 11 percent of the world’s population is currently malnourished, and countries that are most exposed to major changes in climate have higher rates of malnutrition. The report also states that the number of extreme climate-related events—such as extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms—has doubled since the early 1990s.
In media news, the right-wing TV broadcaster Sinclair Broadcast Group is facing widespread criticism after forcing local news affiliates to run a segment defending the tear gassing of asylum seekers on the U.S. border. The piece was a commentary by Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair’s chief political analyst and former Trump aide.
Boris Epshteyn: “Dozens of migrants attacked U.S. border enforcement by throwing rocks and bottles. Ultimately, American authorities had to use tear gas to stop the attacks. Some on the left, such as Democrat Congresswoman Maxine Waters, were immediately up in arms about our president and his team standing up for our men and women in uniform and for our national security. The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country.”
After the segment caused major public backlash, Sinclair released a statement saying, “The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group.”
The Senate has delayed voting on the nomination of Ron Vitiello to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Vitiello, who currently serves as the acting director of ICE, has come under fire for refusing to rule out future family separations at a hearing earlier this month. He has also been called out for a 2012 tweet in which he said the Democratic Party should be renamed the “Neo-Klanist party.” This comes as a new report from ProPublica reveals that families are still being separated at the border, months after the policy was supposedly reversed.
A sweeping new report by the Miami Herald lays out how Trump Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta helped billionaire Jeffrey Epstein avoid potential legal repercussions for sexually abusing and trafficking dozens of underage girls. The report reveals that Acosta—then a U.S. attorney in Florida—offered Epstein a plea deal in 2008 allowing him to serve just 13 months and avoid a federal trial. The deal put an end to an FBI probe into the case and granted immunity to any of the crimes’ co-conspirators. It’s unknown how many girls Epstein abused overall, though the Miami Herald identifies about 80 women who allege they were sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006. A survivor of the abuse, Courtney Wild, told the Herald, “Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to—and he was right.” Epstein was a wealthy hedge fund manager who was friends with former President Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump, Prince Andrew and others.
In New York, the office of a Jewish professor at Columbia University was vandalized Wednesday with anti-Semitic graffiti. Professor Elizabeth Midlarsky, who researches the Holocaust, said she found large swastikas and the slur ”YID” spray-painted outside her office. This is the latest in a string of anti-Semitic attacks in New York City. Earlier this month, anti-Semitic graffiti prompted the cancellation of an event hosted by “Broad City”’s Ilana Glazer at the Union Temple in Brooklyn.
In health news, life expectancy in the United States declined from 2016 to 2017, the third consecutive year a decrease has been observed, in a pattern unseen since World War II. The decline is due to an increase in drug overdoses and suicides. A record 70,000 people died from overdoses last year. Drug overdoses linked to the use of fentanyls—highly addictive synthetic opioids—increased more than 45 percent in 2017. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for adults under 55.
The European Union’s climate chief has announced Europe is aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and plans to take the global lead in combating climate change.
Miguel Arias Cañete: “Going climate-neutral will deliver what Europeans want most of all: meaningful improvements to their daily lives. Energy-efficient homes will become the norm in a climate-neutral Europe. Transport will be clean and adapted to a modern, sustainable lifestyle. And today we have to acknowledge that air pollution causes severe diseases and almost half a million premature deaths annually in the European Union.”
Brazil has withdrawn from hosting COP25, next year’s United Nations climate conference. Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro has been criticized by environmentalists, who warn he will speed catastrophic climate change by opening up vast swaths of the Amazon to agribusiness giants.
And in more environmental news, Greenpeace activists climbed a 600-foot chimney at a power station in central Poland Tuesday to protest the country’s use of coal ahead the of U.N. climate talks next month.
Katarzyna Guzek: “Belchatów power plant is the largest coal-fired power plant in Europe and one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world. Greenpeace activists are pointing finger on this particular facility because it’s the largest climate killer in Europe. Soon, the political leaders will meet in Katowice at the climate summit, COP24, to discuss the future of climate policies. This kind of action should encourage everybody to demand from political and business leaders to do a just transition from coal towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.”
Democracy Now! will be broadcasting from Katowice, Poland, from December 10 to December 15.