In these times of elections, climate chaos and COVID-19, independent news is more important than ever. You turn to Democracy Now! because you trust that when we're reporting on the pandemic or the uprisings against police brutality—or the climate crisis—our coverage is not brought to you by the fossil fuel, insurance or weapons industries or Big Pharma. We count on YOU to make our work possible. Today, a generous supporter will DOUBLE your new monthly donation to Democracy Now!, meaning your gift will go twice as far. This is a challenging time for us all, but if you're able to make a monthly donation and provide us with support we can rely on all year, please do so today. Stay safe, and thank you so much.
We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.
Please do your part today.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Wednesday for President Trump to cancel his State of the Union address later this month, arguing the government shutdown has left the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security starved for funds and unprepared to simultaneously protect all three branches of government.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “That we would have the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the entire Congress of the United States—House and Senate—the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Cabinet of the United States—did I say that?—and the diplomatic core, all in the same room, this requires hundreds of people working on the logistics and the security of it. Most of those people are either furloughed or victims of the shutdown, the president’s shutdown.”
Speaker Pelosi said Trump should cancel the State of the Union, move it to a later date or submit it in writing. Republicans dismissed Pelosi’s warning as a political stunt.
Meanwhile, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history—now in its 27th day—continues to punish more than 800,000 federal employees who’ve gone without a paycheck since December 22. Workers rallied in airports in Sacramento, California, and Baltimore, Maryland, Wednesday, building on similar protests warning that the shutdown is threatening aviation security. There are reports of skyrocketing absences among federal employees forced to work without pay. On Capitol Hill, federal contractors held a protest outside the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans, saying the shutdown threatens to deprive some 4 million contract workers of hundreds of millions of dollars in expected payments. On Wednesday, President Trump signed legislation that will grant back pay to federal workers once the shutdown is resolved, but there’s no indication that will come anytime soon, and will not apply to federal contractors.
The Trump administration is planning a massive expansion of the Pentagon’s anti-ballistic missile program, on a scale not seen since President Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiatives of the 1980s. Trump is expected to announce the plan during a scheduled stop at the Pentagon later today. The planned announcement comes as the Trump administration is withdrawing the United States from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on nuclear arms, signed with Russia in 1987.
President Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, told senators Wednesday he believes climate change is real, but doesn’t consider it the biggest crisis facing the planet. This is Andrew Wheeler being questioned by Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders at his Senate confirmation hearing.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Mr. Wheeler, President Trump has indicated his belief that climate change is a hoax, perhaps perpetrated by the Chinese. Do you agree?”
Andrew Wheeler: “Well, I believe that climate change is real. I believe that man has an impact on it. And”—
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “President has said that climate change is a hoax. Do you agree with him?”
Andrew Wheeler: “I have not used the 'hoax' word myself.”
Wheeler has been the acting head of the EPA since Scott Pruitt resigned in July amid an onslaught of financial and ethics scandals. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for Murray Energy, the nation’s largest underground coal mining company. We’ll have more on Andrew Wheeler after headlines.
In more climate news, a new study finds Earth’s oceans reached their warmest temperature in recorded history in 2018—an ominous sign that greenhouse gas emissions are fueling rising seas and ever more powerful storms. The analysis published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences finds ocean warming has accelerated sharply since the 1990s, at a pace that’s much faster than previously recognized.
In Syria, a suicide bomber struck a restaurant in the northern city of Manbij Wednesday, killing 19 people including four Americans—two of them U.S. troops. The bombing was claimed by ISIS and came just weeks after President Trump declared victory over the group and ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria, prompting the resignation of Pentagon chief Jim Mattis. Just hours after the attack, Vice President Mike Pence said in a speech, ”ISIS has been defeated,” and “the caliphate has crumbled.” Wednesday’s attack drew renewed calls from congressional hawks—both Republicans and Democrats—to reverse Trump’s Syria withdrawal. The U.S. has an estimated 2,000 troops stationed in Syria, even though Congress has never declared war on the country.
In Zimbabwe, at least five people have been killed and hundreds more arrested after government forces moved to suppress nationwide protests against the government’s move to more than double the cost of fuel. As protests began Monday, the government shut down internet access nationwide and deployed the military to the streets of Harare and other cities. Hundreds of people were reportedly beaten and arrested as authorities raided homes.
Tichaona Zimunya: “Soldiers broke into our house in the middle of the night, destroying property in the process. They took turns to beat us, and our room was full of blood.”
Tapiwa Kaseke: “They had no mercy. They wanted to kill us. But l managed to escape.”
Fuel prices in Zimbabwe are now among the most expensive in the world.
In Kenya, the death toll from Tuesday’s attack on a luxury hotel in the capital Nairobi has risen to 21—plus five assailants—with Kenya’s Red Cross warning that 50 people remain missing. In a statement, the Somalia-based al-Shabab group claimed the assault was retaliation for President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Among the dead was at least one U.S. citizen: businessman Jason Spindler, who in 2001 survived the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote in the House of Commons Wednesday, one day after her Brexit plan to withdraw from the European Union was crushed in an historic defeat. It’s the first time a British leader has held power after losing such an important parliamentary battle. This is Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking just after lawmakers signaled their confidence in the prime minister.
Jeremy Corbyn: “Last night, the House rejected the government’s deal emphatically. A week ago, the House voted to condemn the idea of a no-deal Brexit. Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the government—the government must remove—must remove, clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that.”
There’s no clear path forward for Britain, which has just 10 weeks before a deadline to withdraw from the EU.
The New York Times reports President Trump’s inaugural committee received an unprecedented $107 million from private donors—at least twice the amount raised by any of Trump’s predecessors. Despite the lavish spending, Trump’s inauguration was a far smaller affair than President Obama’s first inauguration in 2008, with just three official inaugural balls and a fraction of the crowd size. It’s not known how most of the money was spent, but among expenses uncovered by the Times was $1.5 million paid to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The Times report came as the inspector general for the General Services Administration said Wednesday the agency ignored concerns that Donald Trump’s lease on the federally owned building that houses the Trump International Hotel violates anti-corruption clauses of the Constitution. The inspector general said that after Trump’s election, regulators failed to consider whether Trump’s continued lease violated the emoluments clauses, which bar the president from receiving payments from foreign leaders or U.S. states.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that top executives of T-Mobile booked thousands of dollars’ worth of stays at Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel just one day after their company announced plans for a $26 billion merger with Sprint. The Post reports the executives have repeatedly returned to the hotel—for at least 38 nights—as they seek the Trump administration’s approval for the merger.
President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani falsely claimed Wednesday that he “never said there was no collusion” between Russia and President Trump’s 2016 campaign. Giuliani was speaking to CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
Rudy Giuliani: “I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.”
Chris Cuomo: “Yes, you have.”
Rudy Giuliani: “I have no idea if there—I have not. I said the president of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here—conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.”
Giuliani’s statement directly contradicts his past comments—made as recently as last July—stating that nobody in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Giuliani’s shifting claims came amid new revelations about former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s efforts to share internal polling data with a suspected Russian intelligence operative named Konstantin Kilimnik.
Michigan State University’s interim president says he’ll resign next week amid a furor over his comments about survivors of former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who has been convicted of sexually abusing hundreds of women and girls. The interim president, former Michigan Governor John Engler, told the Detroit Free Press last week that women who were sexually assaulted by Nassar are in the “spotlight” and “still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.” The comments prompted Michigan State administrators and the Board of Trustees to demand Engler’s resignation. His predecessor, Lou Anna Simon, will go on trial later this month facing charges she lied to police as they investigated Larry Nassar’s crimes; she faces up to four years in prison.
In Los Angeles, the union representing more than 30,000 teachers is set to resume bargaining today with the Los Angeles Unified School District as a strike by educators enters its fourth day. Teachers are demanding smaller class sizes, higher pay, the regulation of charter schools and more nurses, counselors and librarians.
In New York state, police arrested four people Wednesday as they used tractors to block a road to the construction site of a massive gas-fired power plant. Although New York banned fracking in 2014, activists say the 1,100-megawatt plant in Wingdale would rely on imports of fracked gas from other states.
On Wall Street, the investment giant BlackRock was forced to deny Wednesday that it’s taking bold action on climate change, after the activist group The Yes Men sent reporters a hoax letter posing as BlackRock CEO Larry Fink. The letter claimed BlackRock would require companies it invests in to align their business models with the goals of the Paris climate agreement. After the Financial Times, CNBC and other media outlets ran with the story, BlackRock tweeted, “Don’t be fooled by imitations…Larry’s real CEO letter coming soon.” As the world’s largest investment company, BlackRock is also the world’s largest owner of fossil fuel companies and has been the target of environmentalists and shareholder activists calling on it to divest from coal, oil and gas.