With the partial government shutdown now in its 20th day, President Trump reportedly stormed out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday after they refused to back a deal to fund a wall on the southern border. In a tweet, Trump called the meeting “a total waste of time,” adding, “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!” Sen. Schumer accused the president of throwing a “temper tantrum.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “He asked Speaker Pelosi, 'Will you agree to my wall?' She said, 'No.' And he just got up and said, 'Then we have nothing to discuss,' and he just walked out. Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way. And he just walked out of the meeting.”
This comes as unions representing employees of the federal government will rally at noon today in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to the partial shutdown, which has left 380,000 workers furloughed and another 420,000 forced to work without a paycheck. At the White House, a reporter asked President Trump about the impacts of the shutdown.
Jonathan Karl: “These people have to go without their paychecks. They’re being—some are being forced to work without pay. Some have been furloughed. These are park rangers”—
President Donald Trump: “They all get their money. They’re all going to get their money, and I think they’re going to be happy.”
The partial shutdown is increasingly threatening safety nets for the poorest Americans while allowing corporations to go unregulated. Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, wrote, “Corporate lawbreakers are going unpunished, safety inspections are being postponed, discrimination charges are going uninvestigated, polluters are not being held in check, financial fraudsters are not being policed, consumer complaints are not being received, and accident investigations have ceased.” After headlines, we’ll go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Robert Weissman.
President Trump and his White House counsel plan to visit McAllen, Texas, today amid speculation he may declare a national emergency and try to use Pentagon funds to pay for part of an expanded border wall. Meanwhile, the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., shared a post on Instagram comparing immigrants to animals. Donald Trump Jr. wrote, “Do you know why you can enjoy a day at the zoo? Because walls work.” Don Jr.'s post echoes President Trump's past comment calling immigrant gang members “animals” and “not people.”
President Trump has nominated former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist and has been the acting head of the EPA since Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid an onslaught of financial and ethics scandals. Wheeler has regularly engaged with right-wing conspiracy accounts on social media and “liked” a racist post featuring the Obamas in 2013.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi has been declared the provisional winner in December’s presidential election. Congo’s Independent National Election Commission says Tshisekedi won a plurality of votes with almost 39 percent of the total. But election observers—including the influential Church’s bishops’ conference—say another opposition leader, Martin Fayulu, won handily. Fayulu has denounced the results as an “electoral coup” and promised a challenge. The result comes in an election that observers say was marred by irregularities, with opposition groups alleging fraud. More than a million Congolese voters were unable to cast ballots due to violence from armed opposition groups, as well as an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. A candidate groomed by longtime authoritarian President Joseph Kabila came in third place. Kabila has promised to step down this month after 18 years in power—and more than two years since his presidential mandate expired.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has arrived in Cairo, where he discussed security and economic cooperation with Egypt’s authoritarian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Pompeo is set to deliver a foreign policy speech today at American University in Cairo. His visit comes on the heels of a surprise trip to Iraq on Wednesday, where he discussed President Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.
Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Egypt comes on the 100th day of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s death, after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2 and never emerged. Pompeo and the Trump administration have defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even though the Senate voted unanimously to find him responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. In another recent development, Turkish officials have released footage purporting to show members of a Saudi hit squad carrying Khashoggi’s body parts out of the consulate in large black bags.
In the Mediterranean, the government of Malta has allowed nearly 50 asylum seekers who had been stranded at sea for weeks to come ashore on two rescue vessels. The decision ended a 19-day standoff that saw other European Union members deny a port of entry to the migrants, in a move that’s been blasted by human rights groups as “shameful.” Aboard the Sea-Watch 3 vessel, run by a German humanitarian group, there were cheers Wednesday as news of an agreement to process the asylum seekers spread.
Kim Heaton-Heather: “Two hours. Two hours. Two hours. We have a safe port. We’re going in. C’est fini.”
An increasing number of asylum seekers are dying at sea, after Italy’s right-wing government moved last year to deny migrant rescue ships entry at Italian ports.
In Lebanon, a blanket of snow has fallen on makeshift camps for Syrian refugees, compounding the misery of thousands of people whose tents flooded with rainwater during intense winter storms over the weekend. The U.N. says flooding affected over 10,000 refugees across Lebanon, with a further 70,000 Syrians at risk. The storms claimed the life of an 8-year-old Syrian girl who fell into a river and drowned amid heavy wind and rain.
CNN reports that police have issued an arrest warrant for James Mason, the former manager for pop star R. Kelly. Mason is accused of threatening to kill the father of Joycelyn Savage, who alleges R. Kelly is holding his daughter against her will in an abusive cult. A police report obtained by CNN quotes Mason as threatening Savage with the words, “I’m gonna do harm to you and your family, when I see you I’m gonna get you, I’m going to f—-ing kill you.” R. Kelly has been accused of sexual assault, predatory behavior and pedophilia for two decades but has never been criminally convicted. In Chicago, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx says her office is investigating “numerous” complaints against R. Kelly and has encouraged other victims to step forward.
Meanwhile, pop star Lady Gaga apologized Wednesday for collaborating with R. Kelly on the 2013 single “Do What U Want (With My Body).” Lady Gaga is herself a survivor of sexual assault. She says she’ll remove the single from streaming services like Spotify.
In Kentucky, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would effectively outlaw abortions, even in cases of fetal anomalies, rape or incest. Abortions are already highly restricted in Kentucky, which has just one abortion provider for the entire state. Bills similar to Kentucky’s so-called heartbeat bill have been struck down by federal courts.
In New York, three climate activists who took direct action to halt construction of the AIM fracked gas pipeline have been found guilty of criminal trespass. Rebecca Berlin, David Publow and Janet González locked themselves inside a 3-and-a-half-foot-wide section of pipeline in 2016, stopping construction for 18 hours. On Tuesday, a judge rejected a “necessity defense” mounted by the activists, who argue their action was necessitated by the clear and present danger posed by climate change. But the judge did let the three walk free without any additional punishment.
In Los Angeles, the union representing tens of thousands of public school teachers has delayed plans to begin a strike today, even as teachers remain far from a breakthrough in contract talks. The union now says it’s prepared to strike on Monday unless its demands are met. Union negotiators want an immediate 6.5 percent raise, along with smaller class sizes, more librarians, fewer standardized tests and more teacher input in local school leadership councils.
And Luis Garden Acosta, the founder and president for more than 35 years of the nationally known El Puente youth and community leadership program in Brooklyn, and long regarded as one of New York City’s foremost human rights and Latino community activists, died Tuesday night following a long illness. He was 72. A former seminarian who had been active in the Catholic antiwar movement in Brooklyn, Garden Acosta joined the Young Lords Party in 1970 and later founded that group’s Massachusetts chapter while he was still a student at Harvard Medical School. In 2009, Garden Acosta told Democracy Now! about his participation in the Young Lords’ takeover of the First Spanish Methodist Church in East Harlem in late 1969, which the group used to house free breakfast and clothing programs, health services, a daycare center, a liberation school and community dinners. The occupation ended in January 1970, when police raided the church, arresting 105 members of the Young Lords.
Luis Garden Acosta: “Here I am, very much involved in Catholic Social Action. I am a former seminarian for the Catholic priesthood, a former monk. And so, the question of liberation theology was very much a part of my life, and my whole struggle was against this war in Vietnam. But at the same time, as I said, there were many missing issues that weren’t connecting, I thought. And then I heard that young people, who were trying to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, deal with the imprisoned, who were actually trying to perform the Christian mandate of what we call the Corporal Works of Mercy, had been bloodied in a church by police officers who had come in. That is an unprecedented thing. It sent chills up my spine. In a church! A sacred space. So I immediately, the next Sunday, went to investigate and be part of it.”
Luis Garden Acosta went on to pioneer successful nonviolent direct action campaigns against segregated public schools and against environmental racism in New York City. In his later years, together with his wife Frances Lucerna, Garden Acosta created an alternative public high school geared toward human rights activism, the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice.