Venezuela’s government is accusing the United States of staging a coup d’état, after President Trump announced that the U.S. would recognize opposition leader and president of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s new president. Trump made the announcement shortly after Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s ruler during a large opposition protest. Venezuela’s sitting President Nicolás Maduro, who was recently sworn in to a second 6-year term, responded to Trump’s decision by breaking off relations with the United States.
President Nicolás Maduro: “I have decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist government of the United States. Out of Venezuela they go. Enough interventionism. There is dignity here. Here, there are people to defend this land.”
Maduro has ordered U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave Venezuela within 72 hours. The Trump administration says it won’t comply with the order. The European Union and 11 Latin American countries have joined the U.S. in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president. Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba, Mexico and Bolivia are among other nations expressing support for Maduro. On Wednesday, President Trump implied the U.S. was ready to use military force to support Guaidó and to oppose Maduro.
Reporter: “You made an announcement about Venezuela today. Some administration officials told reporters on a conference call that all options are on the table. Are you considering a military option for Venezuela?”
President Donald Trump: “We’re not considering anything, but all options are on the table.”
Reporter: “Does that mean you’re considering, though, a military”—
President Donald Trump: “We’re just—all options, always. All options are on the table.”
All of this comes as Venezuela is facing a staggering economic crisis, caused in part by falling oil prices and broad U.S. sanctions. We’ll have more on the crisis unfolding in Venezuela after headlines.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate is poised to take up two bills today that would end the partial government shutdown—the longest in U.S. history, now in its 34th day. One Senate bill would grant President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding; a second Democratic bill would fund the government through February 8 without funding for the wall. Both bills are expected to fail.
This comes as federal contractors have gone unpaid since December, affecting millions of contract workers, and as some 800,000 federal employees on furlough or forced to work without pay are poised to miss their second paycheck on Friday. On Wednesday, hundreds of unpaid federal workers flooded the Hart Senate Office Building demanding an end to the shutdown and back pay. The workers weren’t allowed to bring signs into the building so they wrote messages on paper plates, which they held aloft for 33 minutes of silent protest—one minute for each day of the government shutdown. They broke their silence chanting, “No more food banks, we need paychecks!” Meanwhile, aviation workers are warning the prolonged shutdown is leaving the airline industry prone to a major disaster. In a joint statement, unions representing air traffic controllers, pilots and flight attendants said, “In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break.”
President Trump said Wednesday he’ll delay his State of the Union address until after the government shutdown ends, capping a day of brinkmanship with Nancy Pelosi that saw the House speaker disinvite Trump from addressing a joint session of Congress. Pelosi says the 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 under one roof. At the White House, President Trump responded angrily.
President Donald Trump: “The State of the Union speech has been canceled by Nancy Pelosi because she doesn’t want to hear the truth. She doesn’t want the American public to hear what’s going on. And she’s afraid of the truth. And the super-left Democrats, the radical Democrats—what’s going on in that party is shocking.”
In New York City, a federal jury heard testimony Wednesday blaming the sons of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán for the murder of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez. Valdez died in May of 2017 after he was dragged out of his car and shot 12 times, less than a block from the office of the newspaper he co-founded in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. On Wednesday, a former lieutenant in the Sinoloa drug cartel testified at El Chapo’s trial in Brooklyn that Valdez was murdered after he ignored death threats by El Chapo’s sons against publishing an interview. In March of 2017, after one of his colleagues was assassinated, Javier Valdez said, “Let them kill us all, if that is the death sentence for reporting this hell. No to silence.” Valdez would be assassinated just two months later.
In Brazil, the family of newly inaugurated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro is facing a growing scandal after Brazil’s biggest newspaper linked Bolsonaro’s son Flávio to members of a notorious criminal syndicate and militia known as The Crime Bureau. According to the paper O Globo, Flávio Bolsonaro has long-standing ties to a pair of Rio de Janeiro police officers now working for The Crime Bureau. Flávio Bolsonaro even employed the wife and mother of one of the former officers as recently as last year. The pair have been named suspects in the assassination of prominent human rights and gay rights activist and city councilmember Marielle Franco, who was shot dead along with her driver in Rio de Janeiro in March.
A state district court in Iowa has struck down the nation’s most restrictive ban on abortions. The Iowa law banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected—something that typically happens just six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women even realize they’re pregnant. The law was widely seen as an attempt to challenge the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling at the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York state have approved a long-delayed bill protecting a woman’s right to an abortion if Roe is overturned, and eliminating abortions from New York’s criminal code.
President Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen said Wednesday he has indefinitely delayed plans to testify to the House Oversight Committee, citing attacks by President Trump. In a statement, a spokesperson said Cohen was postponing his Capitol Hill appearance “due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani, as recently as this weekend.” President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have repeatedly publicly attacked Cohen and his father-in-law on Twitter and in TV appearances. This is Trump speaking January 12 on Fox News.
President Donald Trump: “He should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at, because where does that money—that’s the money in the family.”
Trump’s critics say the threats amount to witness tampering. California Democratic Congressmember Ted Lieu tweeted part of a U.S. statute declaring, “'Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens … or attempts to do so … with intent to … influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person' is guilty of a felony.” Michael Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about his work on behalf of Donald Trump. Congressional leaders suggested they may subpoena Cohen to compel him to testify.
A powerful House committee has launched an investigation into what it calls “grave breaches of national security” over how White House officials were awarded clearances to read highly classified documents. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee say the White House and Trump’s transition team gave clearances to officials who should not have had access to the nation’s top secrets. Among those cited by the committee: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who lied to the FBI about secret conversations he held with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.; former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who received a security clearance despite allegations of spousal abuse; and President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who failed to report over 100 foreign contacts on his initial application for clearance, which he later revised three times.
In climate news, the U.S. government shutdown has hampered public access to weather and climate data. Visitors to the website of the National Climatic Data Center are redirected to a page reading, “The website you are trying to access is not available at this time due to a lapse in appropriation.” This comes as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration failed to issue an annual global temperature analysis due to the shutdown. The loss of the data from the U.S. has stalled the work of other climate scientists around the world.
And the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has arrived in Davos, Switzerland, where she’s calling on heads of state and global elites gathered for the World Economic Forum to take urgent action on climate change. Ahead of her trip to the forum, Thunberg posted a video online accusing corporate and government leaders of essentially doing nothing to prevent a climate catastrophe.
Greta Thunberg: “Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created. But that is just another convenient lie, because if everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame. Some people—some companies and some decision-makers in particular—has known exactly what priceless values they are sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I want to challenge those companies and those decision-makers into real and bold climate action, to set their economic goals aside and to safeguard the future living conditions for humankind. I don’t believe for one second that you will rise to that challenge. But I want to ask you all the same. I ask you to prove me wrong.”
Greta Thunberg made international headlines last year after she launched a one-day-a-week school strike against climate change, held every Friday outside the Swedish parliament. The strike quickly spread and became a global phenomenon. Click here to see our interview with Greta Thunberg and her address to world leaders gathered at the U.N. climate summit in Poland last month.