President Donald Trump paid a surprise visit Wednesday to a sprawling military base in western Iraq. Trump was joined by first lady Melania Trump, as the president posed for selfies with troops and autographed red “Make America Great Again” hats. It was Trump’s first visit to an active war zone since he took office nearly two years ago. During a speech to the troops, Trump defended his plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and about half of the nearly 7,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump: “America shouldn’t be doing the fighting for every nation on Earth, not being reimbursed, in many cases, at all. If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price, and sometimes that’s also a monetary price, so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers.”
But Trump said he has no plans to withdraw the more than 5,000 U.S. troops who remain in Iraq. During his brief trip, Trump did not meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi or any other Iraqi officials. In a statement, a bloc of Iraqi parliamentarians condemned Trump’s surprise visit as a “flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms.”
Trump’s Iraq visit came as The New York Times reported that a podiatrist in Queens, New York, helped Donald Trump avoid the Vietnam War in 1968 as a favor to Trump’s father, the real estate magnate Fred Trump. The foot doctor, Larry Braunstein, died in 2007, but his daughters told The New York Times their father often recounted how he helped Donald Trump get one of his five draft deferments with a diagnosis of bone spurs. In return, Dr. Braunstein was reportedly given direct access to his landlord, Fred Trump, who helped Braunstein quickly repair any problems with the building he rented from the Trump family.
The federal government has entered a sixth day of a partial shutdown with no resolution in sight, as President Trump continues to demand billions of dollars in new funding for an expanded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. This is Trump responding to a reporter during his trip to Iraq on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump: “Whatever it takes. I mean, we’re going to have a wall. We’re going to have safety. We need safety for our country, even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border. We have the terrorists also coming in, fellas, through the southern border.”
The shutdown has left some 800,000 federal employees either furloughed or working without pay during the Christmas holiday season.
Meanwhile, funding has expired for programs aimed at helping women who’ve survived domestic violence and sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act expired on Saturday as the government shutdown took hold, and its programs will remain unfunded unless—and until—Congress reauthorizes it.
In El Paso, Texas, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers released hundreds of migrants Wednesday night at a downtown bus station, bringing the number of people released this week to more than 1,000. Local nonprofits that assist the migrants said this time they were given some advance warning of the drop-offs, unlike over the Christmas holiday when ICE stranded hundreds of people in the cold—including young children—with no warning and no plans for accommodations. Immigration activists say the drop-offs were part of the Trump administration’s deliberate strategy of sowing chaos at the border as a deterrent to asylum seekers. This is Dylan Corbett, director of Hope Border Institute, an El Paso-based charity that assists migrants.
Dylan Corbett: “The majority of them don’t even know that they’re not in the hands of the government. Although we are a community group, the migrants don’t know that, with us, they are not in detention, they are not with CBP or ICE. They don’t know anything. They need information. They need to get informed. Some of them don’t even know they’re in El Paso.”
After headlines, we’ll go to El Paso to speak with Dylan Corbett about the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
In Guatemala, friends and family of Jakelin Caal Maquín, the indigenous girl who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody on December 8, mourned the 7-year-old at her funeral on Christmas Day. About 150 people gathered around an open casket for the little girl before lowering her into the ground in the impoverished mountain village of San Antonio Secortez. Caal’s mother was so despondent, she couldn’t bear to attend the funeral. The girl’s uncle, Jose Manuel Caal, said poverty and hunger drove the girl’s father to bring her to the United States to apply for asylum.
Jose Manuel Caal: “It’s because of the poverty that people are migrating away from here. There are no opportunities here. The poverty we live in, the crops we grow aren’t enough to support a family.”
Caal died on December 8, two days after crossing into the U.S. in a remote part of New Mexico. She had a fever of nearly 106 degrees at the time of her death. Human rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have demanded an impartial, independent investigation into the death.
This comes as a new ProPublica investigation found pervasive sexual assaults at detention centers for immigrant children, with both staff and other residents sometimes acting as predators. In one case, a youth care worker in Arizona who was convicted of molesting seven boys spent months working at a detention center without a full background check.
In Sudan, human rights groups say government forces have killed at least 37 people as protesters continue to demand the ouster of longtime authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir. On Tuesday, government forces opened fire with tear gas and live ammunition on peaceful protesters in the capital Khartoum as they chanted, “The people want to bring down the regime”—a popular slogan during the Arab Spring uprisings. Similar scenes have played out in cities across Sudan in recent days. The protests erupted after al-Bashir’s government ended subsidies for fuel and wheat, causing bread prices to triple—even as Sudan’s inflation rate nears 70 percent.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia’s military will begin deploying a new hypersonic missile capable of delivering nuclear warheads at 20 times the speed of sound. Putin called a recent successful test of the missile system a “perfect New Year’s gift for the country.”
President Vladimir Putin: “The new Avangard missile system is invincible for today’s and future air defense systems and missile defense systems. This is a big success and a big victory.”
Russia’s reported successful test of its new hypersonic missile came after the Trump administration said in October it plans to leave the INF, or Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by former President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The treaty helped to eliminate thousands of land-based missiles in Europe.
In Yemen, a United Nations official tasked with overseeing a fragile ceasefire in the strategic port city of Hodeidah is calling on Houthi rebels and fighters with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government to maintain their truce. Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general, spoke to representatives of the warring parties after a U.N. team arrived in the besieged city on Monday.
Patrick Cammaert: “If you read the agreement, the timelines are very tight. That means that the ceasefire started on the 18th of December at midnight, which is extremely important that both sides are holding that, and that both sides show not the blame you and he blames him and everybody blames everybody. Breaking a ceasefire is going back and not forward.”
The ceasefire has largely held since it began on December 18. Humanitarian groups warn a return to fighting could cut off shipments of desperately needed food and aid as half of Yemen’s 28 million people are on the brink of famine.
Israel’s Defense Ministry has advanced plans to construct 2,200 new homes in a Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank. Israel’s continued settlement expansion violates international law and multiple U.N. resolutions. This comes as Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, formally set April 9 as the date for a new election, after the right-wing coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed.
Japan’s government said Wednesday it is pulling out of the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling. The move ends a program that allowed Japanese vessels to hunt and kill whales on a limited basis under the pretext of “scientific research.” This is Japan’s cabinet secretary announcing the withdrawal on Wednesday.
Yoshihide Suga: “Japan’s basic policy of promoting sustainable use of aquatic living resources based on scientific evidence has not changed, and under that policy we have decided to resume commercial whaling.”
In a statement, Greenpeace condemned the move and called on Japan to recommit to the International Whaling Commission. But the anti-whaling direct action group Sea Shepherd hailed the withdrawal a victory that would end Japanese whaling in the Antarctic while revealing Japan as a “pirate” whaling nation. Sea Shepherd pledged its boats would continue to confront Japanese whaling vessels on the high seas.
The actor Kevin Spacey has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenager in a bar in Massachusetts in 2016. Spacey is due in court on January 7 to face a felony charge that could bring him up to five years in prison. Spacey has denied the charges. On Monday, he posted a cryptic video on social media posing as the character Frank Underwood from the Netflix show “House of Cards,” where he spent five seasons. Spacey was fired from the show last year after more than a dozen men accused Spacey of sexually harassing or assaulting them.
And in Buena, New Jersey, the family of African-American high school wrestler Andrew Johnson says racism drove a white referee to demand that the teenager cut his dreadlocks before he could compete in a match. Video of the incident taken just before the December 19 match shows a sports trainer publicly and clumsily cutting the hair of the 16-year-old student-athlete, who’s dressed in a wrestling uniform and is visibly shaken to have his dreadlocks sheared off. Johnson was told he had just 90 seconds to agree to the haircut or he would be forced to forfeit the match. Just out of the frame of the video—which has since gone viral—the referee, Alan Maloney, demanded the trainer keep cutting Johnson’s hair until he was satisfied with its length. Maloney had arrived late to the match and missed a weigh-in where referees would typically raise objections to a wrestler’s appearance. In 2016, Alan Maloney admitted he used the N-word during a conversation with other sports officials, and later apologized for the racist slur. In a statement issued through their lawyer, Johnson’s family said, “The blame here rests primarily with the referee and those that permitted him to continue in that role despite clear evidence of what should be a disqualifying race-related transgression.”