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The partial government shutdown is now in its third week as the impasse over President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding showed no signs of abating over the weekend. Trump threatened to call a national emergency if no agreement is made.
President Donald Trump: “We’re looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency. Just read the papers. We have a crisis at the border of drugs, of human beings being trafficked all over the world. They’re coming through. And we have an absolute crisis, and of criminals and gang members coming through. It is national security. It’s a national emergency.”
Democratic lawmakers swiftly condemned the idea, calling into question the legality of the move. Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff called the idea a “nonstarter” Sunday, saying, “If Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border.” On Sunday, Trump said he’d push for the construction of a steel barrier instead of concrete, presenting the idea as a compromise for Democrats. Trump also repeated the idea that Mexico would pay for the wall through the new USMCA trade deal, which would create billions in revenue for the United States. The USCMA has yet to be ratified by Congress.
Federal agencies have been ordered to suspend planned pay raises for top administration officials amid the ongoing shutdown. The raises had been set to go into effect on Sunday, after a long-standing pay freeze for senior officials lapsed. Eight hundred thousand federal workers have either been furloughed or have been working without pay since the government shutdown started. The 380,000 furloughed workers will not receive back pay.
In Jerusalem, national security adviser John Bolton said that U.S. military withdrawal from Syria would happen only after ISIS is defeated and if Turkey would guarantee they would not try to destroy U.S.-trained Syrian Kurdish fighters. Bolton’s comments contradicted Trump’s initial announcement from December 19 ordering an immediate withdrawal and declaring that the U.S. had “won against ISIS.” At a Cabinet meeting last week, Trump also contradicted his December announcement, stating, “I never said fast or slow.” Bolton also said the U.S. would “absolutely assure” the security of Israel and other regional allies. Bolton is set to meet with officials in Turkey today.
While at a joint news conference with Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “We’ll go up to the Golan Heights, again, depending on the weather. The Golan Heights is tremendously important for our security. And I think that when you’re there, you’ll be able to understand perfectly why we’ll never leave the Golan Heights and why it’s important for—that all countries recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981 after capturing the territory from Syria during the 1967 war, but the international community does not recognize its sovereignty. In November, the U.S. said it planned to vote against a U.N. resolution calling for Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights.
In Yemen, a U.S. airstrike killed one of the suspected masterminds behind the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 sailors and wounded at least 40 others. Al-Qaeda militant Jamal al-Badawi was indicted on terrorism charges in 2003 but twice escaped prison in Yemen. The airstrike and al-Badawi’s death, which reportedly occurred on January 1, was confirmed Sunday in tweets by President Trump and U.S. Central Command.
Meanwhile, Pentagon Chief of Staff Kevin Sweeney announced he was resigning Saturday. Sweeney’s resignation comes just over two weeks after James Mattis stepped down as secretary of defense, publicly rebuking Trump’s foreign policy moves. He is the third senior Pentagon official to resign since Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria. Pentagon spokesperson Dana White also left her position last week. White was being investigated for ethics violations at the time of her departure.
In France, the “yellow vest” protesters took to the streets again over the weekend. On Saturday, a group of protesters in Paris rammed a forklift into a government ministry building, while violent confrontations between some demonstrators and police took place in the capital. A reported 50,000 people across the country came out as the movement is now in its second month of protests. On Sunday, hundreds of women organized their own “yellow vest” demonstrations in an effort to counter the recent violence and to highlight the economic issues faced by working women. This is protester Sophie Tissier.
Sophie Tissier: “There are thugs who slip into the protests, and they’re mainly men. And we’re telling them: 'We, the yellow vest women, want to do something peacefully, calmly. We are calling for our women's rights to protest and to take part in the struggle.’ … It’s very, very hard for women in this society. It’s mainly us who look after the children. We have lower salaries than men. Lots are employed in unstable jobs. It’s much harder for women in today’s society. It’s a lot more difficult.”
The Intercept is reporting that the Senate, in its first legislative act, will take up a bill that aims to prevent opposition to the Israeli government by allowing state and local governments to boycott any U.S. companies which are engaged in a boycott against Israel. The Combating BDS Act is part of multiple foreign policy measures contained in bill S.1. It’s sponsored by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and is similar to, though reportedly less extreme than, a measure introduced last year by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, which was met with condemnation from free speech advocates. The Intercept reports that 26 states currently have laws sanctioning entities which support a boycott of Israel, which can entail punishment of individuals working for employers subject to anti-boycott laws.
Pope Francis appealed to Italy and Malta to allow a group of nearly 50 migrants aboard two rescue ships to disembark at their ports. The migrants have been stranded on the ships in the Mediterranean for two weeks, and leaders in Italy and Malta are refusing to let the boats dock. Pope Francis asked for the countries to show “concrete solidarity” to the migrants. Meanwhile, Spanish authorities say they rescued nearly 550 migrants at sea over the weekend.
New clues are emerging in the mysterious case of U.S. diplomats in Cuba who experienced health problems after being exposed to an unidentified high pitch sound in their homes. Scientists said Friday that the high pitch sounds, released in a recording by the Associated Press, were made by crickets rather than a sonic or microwave weapon, as some have speculated. In 2016, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba began reporting unexplained symptoms, including hearing loss, dizziness, nausea and memory loss, after hearing the sound. Last month, doctors in Florida said that the diplomats had suffered physical damage to their ears, though the cause of the damage remains unknown. The State Department withdrew much of its diplomatic staff from Havana and expelled Cuban diplomats from the U.S. following what they believe to be a targeted attack.
In a rare move, the Justice Department acknowledged flaws and errors in a January 2018 report that linked terrorism and immigration; however, they are refusing to retract or edit the report. The report, entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” was released to support Trump’s March 2017 travel ban, barring entry to citizens from six majority-Muslim countries. Among the errors, the report conflates arrests with convictions, misrepresents the timespan it covers, and misleadingly counts people charged with non-terrorist related offenses.
A man has been arrested and charged with capital murder over the killing last week of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes in Houston, who was shot while in a car with her mother and three of her sisters. The suspect was originally believed to be a white man in a possibly racially motivated shooting, but police now say that African-American Eric Black Jr., 20, was responsible in what is likely a “case of mistaken identity.” Police say Black was driving the car from which the deadly shot came. They apprehended Black after receiving a tip from journalist Shaun King. A second suspect is thought to be in custody, but his identity is yet to be confirmed by police.
In Nevada, death row prisoner Scott Dozier died of an apparent suicide Saturday. Dozier had been scheduled to die by lethal injection in July 2018, but a judge halted the execution just hours beforehand after a pharmaceutical company successfully sued to prevent the use of its drug, midazolam, to be used as part of a three-drug lethal cocktail. The cocktail would have also included the drug fentanyl. Dozier, who was convicted of two murders, had been placed on suicide watch after previous suicide attempts. He was found hanging from a bed sheet inside his prison cell.
In Torrance, Southern California, three men were killed and four others wounded after shots were fired at a bowling alley late Friday night. The victims were identified as Astin Edwards, Robert Meekins and Michael Radford. Police have not yet publicly identified any suspects.
In South Carolina, two sheriff’s deputies will be charged over the deaths of two women who drowned in a van that flooded during Hurricane Florence. Forty-five-year-old Windy Newton and 43-year-old Nicolette Green were in law enforcement custody at the time of their deaths, after they had both gone to hospitals, where they were involuntarily committed and detained. Joshua Bishop is charged with involuntary manslaughter, and Stephen Flood is charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide. Click here to see our coverage of this story.
In Washington, D.C., a court of appeals ruled in favor of President’s Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The decision overturned an earlier ruling by a D.C. federal judge blocking the policy for being unconstitutional. The ban, which seeks to restrict military service for transgender people who experience gender dysphoria, replaced an earlier ban on all transgender service members that was announced in July 2017. Other injunctions against the ban are still in effect. The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to take on the case.
In New York City, a trial kicks off today challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to end temporary protected status—known as TPS—for over 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S. Tens of thousands of Haitians were given TPS after an earthquake devastated their country in 2010. In November 2017, the Trump administration announced it would revoke TPS for Haitians. The move was met with protests and multiple lawsuits. In October, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump effort, which also affects immigrants from Sudan, El Salvador and Nicaragua, citing a “discriminatory” motivation. Haitian TPS recipients and their supporters are expected to rally outside the Brooklyn courthouse this morning.
And indigenous land defenders in western Canada say a raid on their encampments is imminent. Members of the Unist’ot’en and the Gidimt’en Clan have been physically blocking entry to native Wet’suwet’en territory, where TransCanada Corporation plans to build the massive $4.7 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline. Last month, a judge granted a temporary injunction for access by Coastal GasLink workers. Reports emerged over the weekend of chartered police buses arriving in the area to defy the two Wet’suwet’en road blocks. This is Molly Wickham of the Gidimt’en Clan speaking Saturday night.
Molly Wickham: “People like to think that things have gotten a lot better in so-called Canada and in our communities and that things aren’t the same that they were 150 years ago. But that’s just a fallacy. It’s false, because we know, right now, in this reality, that the state is willing and capable of using the same kinds of violence that they have used against our people for the last 150 years here.”