The partial government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, is in its 24th day, with still no apparent end in sight. On Sunday, Republican South Carolina senator and Trump ally Lindsey Graham told Fox News he thought Trump should temporarily reopen the government while pursuing negotiations with Democrats.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “Before he pulls the plug on the legislative option—and I think we’re almost there—I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off, see if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers.”
The comments came just two days after Senator Graham tweeted, “Mr. President, Declare a national emergency NOW. Build a wall NOW.” Trump has so far refused to consider any spending measures that do not include his $5.7 billion in border wall funding. Despite Trump’s claims last week that Republican senators were “unified” on the shutdown, a number of Republican senators have expressed support for reopening the government, as 800,000 federal employees either continue to work without pay or are furloughed.
On Friday, reports emerged that the White House may attempt to divert disaster relief funding, including money designated for ongoing hurricane relief work in Puerto Rico, if Trump calls a national emergency to build his border wall. This came as the largest congressional delegation ever visited the island of Puerto Rico over the weekend to discuss the ongoing economic crisis and post-hurricane recovery. Meanwhile, despite being affected by the government shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management is holding public meetings in Alaska to push forward plans for new oil and gas leases in the Arctic.
In Texas, the controversial Tornillo prison camp, which at one point jailed several thousand immigrant youths, closed Friday, after months of criticism from immigrant and human rights activists, Democratic lawmakers and health professionals. This is activist Janie Stein, responding to the news of the Tornillo shutdown.
Janie Stein: “Now that the children are gone—we’ve gotten confirmation from people inside and from politicians who have also been told that all the children are gone, mostly to sponsors, to family sponsors. And we’re very happy about that. And we’re also very concerned, because we know that there are detention centers in other parts of the country.”
Public teachers in Los Angeles are planning to stage a citywide strike today, demanding better pay, more funding for school support staff, smaller class sizes and a cap on the number of charter schools in the district. The strike, initially planned for last week, was put on hold, but the teachers’ union—United Teachers Los Angeles—and district leaders failed to reach an agreement in their ongoing negotiations. The union represents over 30,000 members. This will be the first such strike in nearly 30 years.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that counterintelligence agents began investigating Trump’s 2017 firing of former FBI Director James Comey because of concerns he may be working “on behalf of Russia” against U.S. interests. Investigators reportedly launched the investigation after Trump himself linked Comey’s firing to the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that Trump went to “extraordinary lengths” to keep details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin hidden, including a July 2018 meeting in Helsinki, after which Trump reportedly took his own interpreter’s notes. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler has said he is looking into the reports, while House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel said his panel will hold hearings on Trump’s “dark dealings” with Putin.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the National Security Council asked the Pentagon about possible military options targeting Iran last year. The request followed a September strike by Iranian forces in Baghdad, which did not result in any damage or casualties. National security adviser John Bolton is known for his extremely hawkish foreign policy views and has openly called for regime change in Iran.
Following the Pentagon’s announcement of the start of U.S. troop withdrawals from Syria last week, Trump ratcheted up threats to Turkey over the issue of Syrian Kurds. Trump said in a tweet Sunday the U.S. would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.” On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he believed Turkey and the U.S. could work together toward a “good outcome,” days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted national security adviser John Bolton for saying Turkey should protect Syrian Kurdish fighters as a condition for U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli forces had attacked Iranian weapons warehouses in Syria.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh today. The Trump administration has continued to defend the Saudi royal family over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in October at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by Saudi agents. In November, Pompeo told the Senate that, despite CIA findings to the contrary, there is no direct evidence linking the crown prince with the murder; however, senators unanimously passed a resolution last month condemning Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s murder.
A Saudi teen who fled her abusive family has been granted asylum in Canada. Last week, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun flew to Thailand, where she was first threatened with deportation but was eventually able to meet with U.N. representatives about her case. Her story went viral as she live-tweeted her ordeal, including barricading herself in her Thai hotel room to avoid being put on a plane back to her family. Al-Qunun, however, reportedly had to quit Twitter on Friday after receiving death threats. She arrived in Toronto Saturday.
In Gaza, Palestinians attended the funeral Saturday of a 44-year-old Palestinian woman who was killed by Israeli fire Friday during weekly protests near the separation barrier with Israel. Another 25 Palestinians were injured, according to Gaza health officials. Israeli forces have killed at least 220 Palestinians since protests under the banner of the Great March of Return started in March 2018.
In more news from the Occupied Territories, a U.N. official has said that around 27,000 Palestinians in the West Bank are no longer receiving any World Food Programme assistance since the start of 2019 due to funding cuts. Another 165,000 in both Gaza and the West Bank are receiving a reduced amount of food assistance from the U.N.-run program. The cuts are due to a drop in donations in recent years, most notably from the United States.
In France, tens of thousands of yellow vest protesters took to the streets over the weekend for the ninth straight week, with over 200 arrests as clashes between protesters and police broke out in Paris and other cities. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a national debate in an attempt to quell frustration among demonstrators who say Macron is too detached from the reality of working people in France. This is protester Maxime Raynaud.
Maxime Raynaud: “In the government, there are people who don’t want to let go of anything. They’ve lived in it. It’s their world—fraud, think of their own advantage. They have no reason to let go. They don’t know better. And it’s the same for us: We have no reason to let go. We don’t know anything else but misery. So we’re best enemies.”
In Poland, authorities arrested two men Friday on suspicion of espionage, including a sales director for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Huawei, which is the world’s second largest maker of smartphones, announced Saturday that it fired Wang Weijing—who also previously worked for the Chinese Consulate in Poland—saying he brought the company “into disrepute.” Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei and the daughter of the company’s founder, is currently out on bail in Canada after being arrested last month. She is facing possible extradition to the United States over suspected violations of sanctions against Iran.
In California, a federal judge has blocked an attempt by the Trump administration to weaken reproductive freedom and roll back parts of the Affordable Care Act by allowing employers to deny birth control coverage to female employees on moral or religious grounds. Judge Haywood Gilliam said the new Trump rules mean that states could “face potentially dire public health and fiscal consequences.” The court order, however, only applies to the 13 states and the District of Columbia, who brought the lawsuit. The new rules are set to go into effect elsewhere in the country today.
Iowa Congressmember Steve King continues to come under fire following his recent interview with The New York Times, in which he praised white supremacy while blasting congressional diversity. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Sunday he would meet with King today to discuss his future in the Republican Party. In the interview, published last Thursday, King said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” King also criticized the diversity of incoming congressmembers, saying, “You could look over there and think the Democratic Party is no country for white men.”
And two more high-profile Democrats have announced their bid for the 2020 presidential election. Julián Castro, former San Antonio mayor and housing secretary under President Obama, officially announced his run Saturday, one month after he launched a presidential exploratory committee. His first event as a presidential contender will be in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, Hawaii Congressmember Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to Congress, has also said she will run, with a formal announcement expected this week. The Iraq War veteran has come under scrutiny since the news broke, with some pointing to statements about LGBTQ rights early in her political career, including once referring to advocates of marriage equality as “homosexual extremists.” Her ties to the nationalist prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, and to the ruling BJP have also come under scrutiny. In 2016, she quit as DNC vice chair and threw her support behind Senator Bernie Sanders’s run for president, after objecting to the DNC’s apparent favoring of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. More recently, she was one of three Democratic congressmembers to oppose the new PAYGO rule, which requires Congress to offset any new spending with either tax increases or budget cuts.