Some 800,000 federal workers who’ve been furloughed or forced to work without compensation will receive no paycheck today, as the partial government shutdown stretches into its 21st day with no resolution in sight. On Thursday, government employees and their unions staged rallies outside federal buildings across the U.S. This is Elaine Suriano, a furloughed EPA scientist, speaking at a protest in Washington, D.C.
Elaine Suriano: “I’ve talked to someone, and I’ve asked them if I can get a loan for a mortgage, if this doesn’t—I mean my mortgage payment, if this doesn’t end at the end of January. So, and if it continues longer, I’ll have to go into my retirement money to pay the bills. The bills keep coming; they don’t stop.”
The protests came as President Trump traveled to McAllen, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday to repeat his demand for more than $5 billion in funding for a border wall. In what would be an unprecedented move, Trump is considering declaring a national emergency in a bid to circumvent Congress, and he has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look into raiding funds from a $13.9 billion disaster relief bill meant to help Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and California recover from deadly hurricanes and wildfires. After a photo-op at the border, Trump granted an interview to Fox News host Sean Hannity, who was reportedly given special access to the president by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine—a former Fox News executive.
Sean Hannity: “Now, you said earlier today that it’s likely, that you’re very likely going to declare a national emergency. How soon would that happen?”
President Donald Trump: “No, if we don’t make a deal with Congress, most likely I will do that. I would actually say I would. I can’t imagine any reason why not, because I’m allowed to do it. The law is 100 percent on my side.”
In fact, many legal scholars and lawmakers say such a move would violate federal law and could set a dangerous precedent. Carol Rose of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “He can try, but he’s going to be challenged in court by the ACLU and by about a million other groups.”
Trump’s visit was met by protesters who rallied on both sides of the border—in Reynosa, Mexico, and in McAllen, Texas. Efrén Olivares of the Texas Civil Rights Project said Trump was stoking racism, xenophobia and fears about a crime epidemic that doesn’t exist.
Efrén Olivares: “The crime rate is much lower here than it is in Houston and Dallas and Austin. So it’s a total falsehood that there’s crime, that the crime rates are high or that there’s a security crisis. People have homes right next to the river, and they live there peacefully without any fence or without any wall. That’s the way it’s been for generations. Now we have this president that, with a rhetoric of xenophobia and racism, is trying to make people who are not from here believe that there’s a crisis. But the people who live here, we know what it’s like, and we know that it’s completely false that there’s a crisis on the border.”
On Capitol Hill, there are no signs that lawmakers will resolve the government shutdown anytime soon. After eight House Republicans joined Democrats in approving a spending bill that would reopen the Treasury Department while funding the IRS as tax season gets underway, Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to schedule a vote Thursday on a companion bill, calling it a “political stunt.”
In climate news, a major new study published in the journal Science finds the world’s oceans are absorbing heat at a far faster rate than previously predicted—a finding with troubling implications for the future of life on Earth. The study found greenhouse gas emissions are warming the oceans 40 percent faster than even the dire predictions made by the U.N.’s top climate scientists five years ago. The authors write, “This warming has contributed to increases in rainfall intensity, rising sea levels, the destruction of coral reefs, declining ocean oxygen levels, and declines in ice sheets; glaciers; and ice caps in the polar regions.”
The Pentagon says it has begun the process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, as ordered by President Trump, but declined to comment on its planned timetable or the movement of troops. The reported U.S. withdrawal came as Turkey said it would invade parts of Syria controlled by Kurdish militias unless the U.S. rapidly completed a withdrawal. This is Turkey’s foreign minister.
Mevlüt Çavusoglu: “But if this process is prolonged or extended over a period of time, and, as I have said before, if they delay this process with false and absurd excuses, like unreal statements such as 'Turks will slaughter the Kurds,' then we will put this decision of starting an operation in east of Euphrates into practice.”
In Egypt, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented his vision for U.S. policy in the Middle East in a speech at a Cairo university Thursday that at times directly contradicted President Trump. Pompeo promised the U.S. will “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria, even as the president has vowed to remove 2,000 troops from the region. Pompeo repeatedly attacked former President Barack Obama throughout the address, telling his audience, “The age of self-inflicted American shame is over.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “President Trump has made the decision to bring our troops home from Syria. We always do, and now is the time. But this isn’t a change of mission. We remain committed to the complete dismantling of ISIS—the ISIS threat and the ongoing fight against radical Islamism in all of its forms. But as President Trump has said, we’re looking to our partners to do more, and in this effort we will do so, going forward, together. For our part, airstrikes in the region will continue as targets arise.”
Pompeo did not mention gross human rights abuses committed in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, or the 60,000 political prisoners human rights groups say are currently locked up in Egyptian jails.
Pompeo will continue his Mideast tour over the weekend, with plans to meet with Gulf Arab leaders—including a visit with the Saudi royal family in Riyadh. During his Cairo speech, Pompeo barely mentioned Saudi Arabia, and not once did he mention Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was reportedly killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad on October 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, before his body parts were smuggled away. On Capitol Hill Thursday, lawmakers marked the 100th day since the killing. Both Congress and the CIA have determined Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman very likely ordered the assassination, although Pompeo and President Trump have disputed the conclusion. This is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “The murder of Khashoggi is an atrocity and an affront to humanity. And the days after his disappearance, members of Congress, both sides of the aisle, both sides of Congress, demanded information and dedicated ourselves to holding the perpetrators accountable.”
In Washington, police arrested five activists Wednesday for holding banners outside the Supreme Court, calling for an end to torture and the closure of the prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The protest came on the 17th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Forty men remain languishing there; many of them have yet to face a trial.
This comes as McClatchy is reporting that CIA Director Gina Haspel ran a secret agency black site for prisoners at Guantánamo. The claim is based on a partially redacted transcript of a secret hearing at Guantánamo last November. Haspel was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, where at least one prisoner was waterboarded and tortured in other ways during her tenure. Haspel also oversaw the destruction of videotapes showing torture at the black site. But she was previously not known to have operated out of Guantánamo.
In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro was inaugurated Thursday to a second 6-year term, overseeing an economy that’s in freefall amidst U.S.-led economic sanctions aimed at ending his presidency. Maduro has accused the U.S.—along with Canada and 12 Latin American allies—of plotting a coup against his socialist government. Maduro repeated the claim at Thursday’s inauguration.
President Nicolás Maduro: “Venezuela is the center of a world war of U.S. imperialism and its allied governments. And they have tried to turn this formal, legal, constitutional and peaceful ceremony into a world war against our country.”
The U.S. and its allies have refused to recognize Maduro’s presidency, calling last year’s election illegitimate. Other Latin American leaders, including Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba, welcomed Maduro’s re-election and joined Thursday’s inauguration in Caracas. The Trump administration has continued to ratchet up sanctions against Venezuela, even as its economy faces hyperinflation, with severe shortages of food and medicine. About 3 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, with many settling in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.
In Brazil, newly inaugurated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday he’ll pull out of a United Nations agreement protecting the rights of migrants. Brazil joins just a handful of countries—led by the United States—that refused to ratify the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration last month. More than 160 other nations have signed on.
Back on Capitol Hill, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders was joined Thursday by Democratic House members as they introduced legislation to dramatically roll back prices that Americans pay for prescription drugs. The bills would allow the Health and Human Services secretary to negotiate for lower prices while pegging the price of prescription drugs to the median price in five industrialized countries. They would also allow Americans to import lower-cost drugs from Canada and other countries. This is Ilhan Omar, freshman congressmember from Minnesota.
Rep. Ilhan Omar: “I believe that healthcare is a basic human right. … Americans pay the highest prices to access the drugs in the world, including three times the price of drugs in Great Britain alone. And instead of taking donations from pharmaceutical industry, we need to hold them accountable for taking advantage of the American people. Medications are too expensive, and we must act boldly to lower prices.”
Senator Bernie Sanders apologized Thursday to women who have come forward to say they were sexually harassed or discriminated against by male staffers while working on his 2016 campaign. The accusations surfaced after more than two dozen staffers penned a letter to Sanders requesting a meeting to discuss “sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign” in the run-up to the 2020 election. Several of Sanders’s top aides have been implicated. This is Senator Sanders speaking Thursday.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “It appears that as part of our campaign there were some women who were harassed or mistreated. And I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out. What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign or any campaign should be about.”
In other news on Sanders’s possible run for president, his 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, has said he will not return to the same position if Sanders decides to run again. But Weaver is expected to stay on a senior adviser.
President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen said Thursday he’ll testify to a House committee next month about his work for Donald Trump. Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress, after admitting he broke federal campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign “in coordination with and at the direction” of President Trump. This comes as The Washington Post reports the White House has added 17 new lawyers to its legal team in recent weeks, as President Trump and his inner circle brace for Robert Mueller to complete his investigation.
A key Republican lawmaker and close ally of President Trump defended white supremacy while assailing the diversity of the incoming lawmakers in an interview published Thursday. Iowa Congressmember Steve King told The New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” Congressmember King went on to criticize the freshman class of Democratic lawmakers, with its record number of women and people of color, saying, “You could look over there and think the Democratic Party is no country for white men.”
And in Montgomery, Alabama, an African-American transgender woman was murdered over the weekend in what the Human Rights Campaign reports was the first known act of deadly violence against a trans person in the U.S. in 2019. Thirty-one-year-old Dana Martin was found in her car in a roadside ditch with a fatal gunshot. No arrests have been made. An ACLU of Alabama spokesperson said, “Dana Martin’s death is representative of the continuing danger that transgender individuals face simply for being themselves.”