Senate leaders have announced a bipartisan agreement that would set federal spending levels over the next two years—in a deal that would avert a second government shutdown. If approved, the deal would raise military and nonmilitary spending by $300 billion while funding disaster relief programs for 2017’s record-breaking hurricane and wildfire seasons. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer welcomed the deal, even though it fails to meet the demands of immigrants rights groups—and many Democrats—who want protection for young undocumented immigrants as part of any spending agreement.
In the House of Representatives, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California held the floor for a record-breaking eight hours Wednesday to call on lawmakers to protect immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children—the so-called DREAMers.
Rep Nancy Pelosi: “There’s nothing partisan or political about protecting DREAMers. If a DREAM Act were brought to the floor, it would pass immediately with strong bipartisan support. And I commend my Republican colleagues for their courage in speaking out on this. Yet our DREAMers hang in limbo with a cruel cloud of fear and uncertainty above them. The Republican moral cowardice must end.”
Illinois Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez warned Pelosi it would be a “complete betrayal” if she supports any spending deal that doesn’t include an extension of DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—which is due to expire in March. Pelosi’s eight-hour speech came after White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly blasted young immigrants as “lazy,” telling reporters, “There are 690,000 official DACA registrants, and the president sent over what amounts to be two-and-a-half times that number, to 1.8 million. The difference between (690,000) and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn’t sign up.”
Meanwhile, Capitol Police arrested immigrant rights activists who held a nonviolent civil disobedience action inside the Senate rotunda. Members of the United We Dream coalition were demanding Congress pass a “clean DREAM Act”—without additional funding for President Trump’s expanded border wall or other anti-immigrant measures.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday, one day after both of his ex-wives publicly accused him of domestic violence. Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, said she was kicked by Porter during the couple’s honeymoon in 2003 and that verbal and physical abuse continued for years. A pair of photos Holderness provided to The Intercept shows her with a black eye; she says they were taken after Porter threw her onto a bed and punched her in the face during a trip to Florence, Italy, in 2005. Holderness also provided the photos to FBI agents as they conducted background interviews for Porter’s White House security clearance. Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, also alleged an abusive relationship in FBI interviews. Even as he tendered his resignation Wednesday, Rob Porter denied the charges—in a statement read by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “'These outrageous allegations are simply false. I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago. And the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described. I've been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.’”
White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly initially defended Porter as a “man of true integrity and honor,” before issuing an after-hours statement claiming he was “shocked” by the domestic violence claims. That’s despite multiple reports that Kelly and other senior White House staff have known for weeks—or even months—that the FBI denied Porter full security clearance over the allegations.
In Syria, U.S. warplanes have carried out strikes on Syrian pro-government forces in Deir ez-Zor over what the Pentagon says was retaliation for attacks on the U.S.-backed Kurdish and Arab rebels. Syria’s government says the strikes left dozens of people dead or wounded, and condemned U.S. “aggression.” Meanwhile, the death toll in a Syrian government offensive targeting rebels in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta—and in Idlib province—has risen to 180, with human rights groups saying 34 civilians, including 12 children, were killed in attacks on Wednesday.
In Mosul, Iraq, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is appealing for $17 million to rebuild the city’s healthcare system, which was left devastated last year after the U.S.-led coalition battled for over nine months to capture the city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. This is UNICEF’s Iraq representative, Peter Hawkins.
Peter Hawkins: “This city, this is part of the hospital as we see it today. It was completely flattened. There are parts of the hospital that remain more or less intact, but gutted. Nothing. No health services for the children of Mosul, a population now of probably about 1.6 million.”
An AP investigation found as many as 11,000 civilians were killed in the U.S.-led coalition’s assault on Mosul.
In Taiwan, rescuers are continuing to search through the rubble of buildings that collapsed late Tuesday, as a powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the coastal city of Hualien. The death toll rose Thursday to six, with 76 people still missing. The quake left one multistory apartment leaning at a precarious angle.
In Britain, women employees at the nation’s largest supermarket chain have filed a massive pay equity suit, alleging that for decades they’ve been paid less than their male counterparts for similar work. This is Kim Element, a longtime employee at Tesco and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Kim Element: “I think that although we think we have equal rights, there are times where there are such discrepancies that you can’t explain them. And I think Tesco is just one of many companies that really aren’t addressing the fact that women seem to still be paid less.”
The suit seeks to bring up to 20,000 pounds of back pay to some 200,000 current and former women employees of Tesco, which is Britain’s biggest retailer and largest private employer.
Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in South Korea, where he’s due to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Friday. Pence’s South Korea trip comes amid a thaw in tensions between North and South, as the two countries prepare to field a joint women’s hockey team and participate in cultural diplomacy. Ahead of his trip to South Korea today, Pence visited Japan, where he met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and spoke to U.S. troops at the Yokota Air Base.
Vice President Mike Pence: “We are ready for any eventuality. The United States of America will always seek peace. We will ever strive for a better future. But you, the instruments of American power, know—and let our adversaries know—all options are on the table.”
Vice President Pence is set to lead the U.S. delegation during Friday’s opening ceremony in the Pyeongchang Olympics. The move has been condemned by LGBTQ activists, including openly gay U.S. men’s figure skater Adam Rippon, who said, “To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘s—holes,’ I think he should really go to church.”
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt admitted this week that global warming is occurring, but questioned whether climate change might not be good for humans. Pruitt was speaking on Las Vegas channel KSNV, which is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Scott Pruitt: “Is it an existential threat? Is it something that is unsustainable? Or what kind of effect or harm is this going to have? I mean, we know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends. I mean, so I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100, in the year 2018? And that’s somewhat—you know, fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”
Researchers from the University of North Carolina have found that climate change will cause 260,000 deaths globally by 2100 through air pollution alone—while threatening the food supply of billions of people even as sea level rise inundates coastal cities around the planet.
California officials moved Wednesday to block oil from newly approved offshore oil rigs from being transported through their state—in the latest move by a state to resist President Trump’s order to vastly expand drilling in U.S. federal waters. California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who chairs the State Lands Commission, told reporters, “I am resolved that not a single drop from Trump’s new oil plan ever makes landfall in California.”
In North Dakota, a court has sentenced anti-pipeline activist Michael Foster to one year in prison, after he broke into an oil pipeline facility and turned a manual safety valve to cut off the flow of tar sands oil coming into the United States from Canada. Foster was one of 10 people arrested in October 2016 as part of a coordinated campaign that saw similar actions in Minnesota, Montana and Washington state.
Internet pioneer John Perry Barlow has died at the age of 70. Barlow was co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for internet users’ privacy and which has battled the Trump administration’s efforts to end landmark “net neutrality” rules designed to keep the internet free and open. Barlow also wrote lyrics for many songs by the legendary rock group The Grateful Dead.
And in New Orleans, Black Lives Matter activist and Charleston, South Carolina, community organizer Muhiyidin d’Baha died Tuesday, after he was shot in the thigh by a bullet as he rode his bicycle. Police have not named any motive or suspects in the killing. D’Baha made national headlines last year after he appeared in a viral video that shows him leaping over a police line in an attempt to grab a Confederate flag from a white supremacist at a rally in Charleston. In 2015, Democracy Now! spoke with Muhiyidin d’Baha outside the Emanuel AME Church amid the funerals of nine African-American worshipers who were gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof. We asked him about the campaign to dismantle Confederate monuments and to bring down the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina state Capitol grounds.
Muhiyidin d’Baha: “It’s re-examining our history and the white supremacist structures in our history, and naming them and calling them what they are. So when we talk about the flag, we don’t get into agitation of race, we get into talks about abolition and states’ rights. We talk about the reality of it. This country is founded upon economic capital developed from free and cheap labor. Now that that cheap labor is not used because of technological innovation, we have the prison-industrial complex and other ways to subsidize people’s living and housing.”
Muhiyidin d’Baha was just 32 years old. His family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to bring his body home to Charleston from New Orleans.