The Senate has approved a bipartisan bill that would roll back sentences for federal prisoners—including mandatory life terms for third-time offenders, as well as mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug users and those convicted of firearm crimes. Senators approved the FIRST STEP Act on a vote of 87 to 12 Tuesday, after it received the backing of groups across the political spectrum, from the conservative Koch brothers to the American Civil Liberties Union. The House is poised to take up a companion bill, which is likely to pass; President Trump has pledged to sign it into law. The FIRST STEP Act also ends sentencing disparities for convictions of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine—a distinction that’s long led to deep racial disparities in prison terms. The bill only affects federal prisoners, who make up less than 10 percent of the more than 2 million U.S. prisoners. The bill is a major priority of senior White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose father spent time in a federal prison.
In Washington, D.C., a federal judge has delayed sentencing for Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, after expressing disgust that Flynn lied to federal investigators. Flynn has acknowledged he lied about his meeting with Russia’s ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign—and admitted that he worked as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey’s government. In an extraordinary 2-hour hearing, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on Tuesday blasted Flynn for his conduct, pointing to an American flag inside the courtroom as he said, “Arguably, you sold your country out.” Judge Sullivan offered to hold off on sentencing Flynn if he agreed to continue to aid federal prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and other criminal investigations. Flynn agreed to the deal, delaying any sentencing until at least March. The court seized Flynn’s passport and ordered him to remain within 50 miles of Washington, D.C. At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected questions about Flynn’s court appearance, saying only that the White House is “concerned” that Flynn lied to the FBI.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Look, there is certainly concern, but that’s something for the court to make that determination, and we’ll let them do that.”
President Trump’s charitable foundation will be dissolved under court supervision, under an agreement reached Tuesday with New York state’s attorney general, who says the Trump family used the charity as a virtual piggy bank for self-dealing. Prosecutors said the Donald J. Trump Foundation gave little or no money to charity and instead served to advance Donald Trump’s business and political ambitions—including illegal coordination with Trump’s 2016 campaign. The charity was also used to settle lawsuits against Trump family businesses and even to purchase a $10,000 portrait of Donald Trump hung at one of Trump’s golf resorts. Among those who gave money to the Trump Foundation were pro-wrestling moguls Vince and Linda McMahon, who became the charity’s biggest contributor with $5 million in donations. Trump later named Linda McMahon as head of the Small Business Administration. Tuesday’s settlement includes a 10-year ban on Donald Trump running a nonprofit organization; his three oldest children will each be barred from working for any charity for one year.
The White House appeared to back away Tuesday from its threats to shut down the federal government unless lawmakers grant President Trump at least $5 billion to expand the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump will seek “other ways” to fund an expanded border wall, after members of Trump’s own Republican Party balked at the prospect of furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers just before Christmas. Trump previously said he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the border wall. Congressional leaders now say they’re likely headed toward agreeing to another short-term spending increase that will see the government funded into the new year—and the next session of Congress, when Democrats take control of the House.
A Honduran mother photographed last month fleeing tear gas fired by U.S. border guards near the port of entry between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, has applied for asylum in the United States. Maria Meza, a 39-year-old Honduran woman, was captured in a Reuters photograph that went viral in November. It shows Meza rushing her two young daughters to safety as a cloud of tear gas spreads nearby. The photo drew international outrage and highlighted the plight of thousands of migrants living in squalid encampments in Tijuana awaiting their turn to apply for asylum in the U.S.—a right enshrined under international law. On Tuesday, Meza and her five children were allowed to apply for asylum, but only after Democratic Congressmembers Jimmy Gomez and Nanette Barragán intervened on her behalf. The lawmakers camped out overnight with Meza’s family and other migrants on U.S. soil near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, surrounded by metal barriers and border guards in riot gear. This is Congressmember Gomez.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez: “What the U.S. policy is, is that you can turn yourself in at any port of entry, and they have to process you. What we’re seeing here is that they’re saying that they don’t have the capacity. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, because no one has been allowed in to see if they have the capacity. So we’re here to observe, to make sure that they’re following U.S. law and international law.”
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers about the conditions that led to the death of 7-year-old Guatemalan indigenous migrant Jakelin Caal Maquín in U.S. custody after she was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month. On Tuesday, several lawmakers toured the Lordsburg Border Patrol station in New Mexico where the girl was held shortly before she became ill, dying after her fever spiked to nearly 106 degrees. This is Houston Congressmember Al Green.
Rep. Al Green: “What I saw in this facility is unbelievable and unconscionable. The SPCA would not allow animals to be treated the way human beings are being treated in this facility.”
We’ll have more on the death of Jakelin Caal Maquín after headlines.
In California, the Yemeni mother of a dying 2-year-old child was granted a State Department waiver from President Trump’s travel ban Tuesday and will see her son one last time before her boy is expected to die. The toddler, Abdullah Hassan, is in an Oakland children’s hospital with a rare brain disease. Both Abdullah and his father, Ali, are U.S. citizens, but the mother, Shaima Swileh, is a Yemeni citizen living in Egypt. Swileh is from one of five majority-Muslim countries—Iran, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Somalia—whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S. under President Trump’s executive order. The little boy is now in a coma.
In media news, more than a dozen companies have pulled advertisements from the program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” after the Fox News host said that immigrants make the U.S. “poorer and dirtier and more divided.” Carlson made the comment on his prime-time show last Thursday.
Tucker Carlson: “We have a moral obligation to admit the world’s poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.”
Following an uproar over the comment, companies including Land Rover, IHOP, Pacific Life Insurance, Ancestry.com and Just for Men have pulled ads from Carlson’s show. Fox News has accused left-wing groups of “censoring” Carlson’s program and noted that the advertisers have only shifted their sponsorship to other Fox News programs.
The Trump administration on Tuesday issued a new rule banning the sale of bump stocks—accessories that turn semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 into fully automatic machine guns. The ban came more than a year after gunman Stephen Paddock used bump stocks to massacre 58 people while wounding 851 others at a concert in Las Vegas. Under the rule change, Americans will have 90 days to destroy their bump stocks or to turn them in to ATF agents. The lobby group Gun Owners of America has promised to sue to prevent the rule from taking effect.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has named Republican Congressmember Martha McSally to serve out the remaining two years of the late U.S. Senator John McCain’s term. McSally is a former Air Force pilot and colonel whose failed Senate campaign earlier this year was backed by President Trump. McSally narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in November’s election.
In Southeast Asia, a Reuters investigation has found the Burmese government is taking steps to ensure that more than 900,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who’ve fled to neighboring Bangladesh will never return home. Reuters cited satellite images that show hundreds of new houses are being built in villages where the Rohingya once resided, before Burma’s government backed a campaign in 2017 that the U.N. has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” This is Rohingya refugee Hussein Ahmed, speaking from a sprawling encampment in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Hussein Ahmed: “Our future is full of darkness. We are not sure whether we will be able to go back or not. If the government gives us back our rights, then we can go back. We have already left our country four times. If we go back and come back here again, it is not fair, as we want to get back our rights as Burmese citizens. We don’t want to stay in this country.”
In China, a new Associated Press investigation has found the Chinese government is forcing minority Uyghur Muslims to work in manufacturing and food industries. Much of the forced labor is occurring inside vast internment camps in northwest Xinjiang province, where up to 2 million Muslims are being held captive. The AP found some of the forced labor went toward manufacturing products for the North Carolina-based apparel company Badger Sportswear. In October, China acknowledged the existence of the Uyghur camps, saying they are part of efforts to counter extremism.
And in Germany, workers at Amazon warehouses have gone on strike during the busy Christmas shopping season. This is Amazon worker Markus Wolf.
Markus Wolf: “We want better working conditions and respect for our work, which would mean extra money for vacations and Christmas—something we deserve.”