The Senate on Thursday rejected a pair of spending bills aimed at ending the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history—now in its 35th day. Six Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of a Democratic bill that would fund the government without meeting Trump’s demand of $5.7 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The 52-44 vote was a blow to Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell but failed to garner the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. In an impassioned speech that lasted for over 20 minutes, Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet blasted Senator Ted Cruz and other Republicans for supporting the shutdown—but laid blame for the crisis at the feet of President Trump.
Sen. Michael Bennet: “This idea that he was going to build a medieval wall across the southern border of Texas, take it from the farmers and ranchers that were there and have the Mexicans pay for it, isn’t true. That’s why we’re here, because he’s now saying the taxpayers have to pay for it.”
A Republican-crafted bill with funding for Trump’s border wall also failed Thursday. That reportedly prompted Republican lawmakers to angrily confront Mitch McConnell in a closed-door meeting over the shutdown and set off a flurry of negotiations on Capitol Hill.
House Democratic leaders are floating proposals that would provide billions of dollars in new funding to pay for more Border Patrol agents, drones, surveillance equipment and other measures along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democratic House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has suggested offering Trump $5.7 billion to build a so-called smart wall in order to break the stalemate over the shutdown. Immigrant rights groups have blasted the suggestion, with the digital rights group Fight for the Future warning, “Increasing border surveillance is a nefarious move that widely threatens the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
This comes as some 800,000 federal employees who’ve been furloughed or forced to work without pay for over a month will miss a second paycheck today. Federal workers are increasingly turning to food pantries as they struggle to pay for housing, food and other basic needs. Among them: More than 40,000 active duty members of the U.S. Coast Guard. This is Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Karl Schultz.
Adm. Karl Schultz: “I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as servicemembers.”
Meanwhile, President Trump’s commerce secretary, multimillionaire investor Wilbur Ross, said Thursday that federal workers should simply take out bridge loans until they get paid. Ross was being questioned by CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Andrew Ross Sorkin: “There are reports that there are some federal workers who are going to homeless shelters to get food.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: “Well, I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why, because, as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake—say, of borrowing from a bank or a credit union–are, in effect, federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose net worth is estimated around $700 million, also diminished the financial hardship faced by unpaid federal workers.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: “Eight hundred thousand workers, if they never got their pay, which is not the case—they will eventually get it—but if they never got it, you’re talking about a third of a percent on our GDP. So it’s not like it’s a gigantic number, overall.”
Meanwhile, President Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump said this week that federal workers are enduring “a little bit of pain” but should be proud of the sacrifice they’re making. Lara Trump was speaking with the online program “Bold TV.”
Carrie Sheffield: “So, in terms of the workers who are coming to work and not getting paid, what would you say to them?”
Lara Trump: “Listen, this is—it’s not fair to you, and we all get that, but this is so much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.”
President Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump is President Trump’s campaign adviser. Wilbur Ross’s and Lara Trump’s comments came as state and local governments that administer food and housing assistance warned benefits to millions of Americans could begin drying up in mid-February due to the shutdown. Earlier this week, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, called for a general strike aimed at ending the shutdown.
Federal agents arrested President Trump’s ally and former adviser Roger Stone early Friday morning, with prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team charging the longtime Republican operative with obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks. An indictment unsealed Friday reveals that a senior Trump campaign official “was directed” to contact Stone ahead of the 2016 election to see what other leaks about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were coming from WikiLeaks. That revelation suggests the Trump campaign knew about thousands of stolen Democratic emails before they were made public by WikiLeaks.
The State Department has ordered all non-emergency government employees to leave Venezuela, after the Trump administration said it would no longer recognize Venezuela’s elected president, Nicolás Maduro, and will instead recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The partial evacuation came as Maduro said he’s closing the Venezuelan Embassy in the U.S. and ordered all U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave Venezuela by Sunday. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Thursday for all members of the Organization of American States to recognize Guaidó as interim president. Pompeo was speaking at an OAS meeting in Washington, D.C.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “The time for debate is done. The regime of former President Nicolás Maduro is illegitimate. His regime is morally bankrupt. It’s economically incompetent. And it is profoundly corrupt. It is undemocratic to the core.”
Pompeo’s speech was interrupted by CodePink protester Medea Benjamin, who held up a sign saying ”OAS: Don’t Support a Coup in Venezuela,” and declared, “A coup is not a democratic transition! Do not listen to Secretary Pompeo!” before being forcibly removed by security guards. After headlines, Medea Benjamin will join us for a roundtable discussion on the crisis in Venezuela.
The Trump administration says it will begin sending some asylum seekers to Mexico while their cases are processed in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security said late Thursday it will begin returning Central American asylum seekers to Tijuana, Mexico, across the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego, California, beginning today. Immigrant rights groups say the plan violates both U.S. and international asylum laws, and are planning court challenges.
Immigrants rights activists are calling for the release of Eduardo Samaniego, a 26-year-old undocumented immigrant and community activist who faces a possible deportation at an ICE hearing today. Samaniego moved to the U.S. from Mexico by himself at age 16, and after graduating as his high school class valedictorian, he went on to organize on behalf of undocumented young people known as DREAMers. Samaniego was arrested three months ago and detained by ICE, and was recently transferred to a for-profit mental health facility in South Carolina, where his mental and physical health are reportedly deteriorating. Samaniego’s supporters call him a political prisoner who’s being targeted by the Trump administration for his activism.
In Minnesota, two men admitted Thursday they bombed a Bloomington mosque in 2017 in a bid to terrorize Muslims into leaving the United States. No one was injured in the bombing, but it caused extensive damage to the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center as worshipers were gathering for morning prayers. Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris pleaded guilty to five counts related to the mosque attack, as well as the attempted bombing of an Illinois abortion clinic and other crimes. A third suspect in the mosque bombing, Michael Hari, remains in federal custody. Hari is a former sheriff’s deputy from Illinois who runs a security company and submitted a bid to build President Trump’s border wall.
In Sudan, anti-government protests continued to grow in size and scope Thursday, with demonstrators in several key cities calling on the authoritarian President Omar al-Bashir to step down after three decades of rule. A 24-year-old man died Thursday from wounds he received at an earlier protest near the capital Khartoum, raising the official death toll since protests erupted in mid-December to 29. Rights groups say more than 40 people have been killed by security forces and pro-government militias firing tear gas and live ammunition.
Brazil’s first elected openly gay federal lawmaker said Thursday he’s leaving his post and has fled Brazil, amid growing homophobic violence coinciding with the rise of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Jean Wyllys, who first took office in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies in 2011, told a São Paulo newspaper he’s received a number of death threats in recent weeks and has felt unsafe since his friend and political ally Marielle Franco—an LGBTQ activist and Rio city councilmember—was assassinated last March. Two suspects in Franco’s murder are members of a criminal syndicate who have ties to President Bolsonaro’s son, Flávio Bolsonaro. President Jair Bolsonaro has a history of making racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments, and has threatened to destroy, imprison or banish his political opponents. Jean Wyllys was elected to a third term in office in October; he will be replaced in Brazil’s Congress by David Miranda, a Rio city councilmember and husband of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Back in the United States, Massachusetts Democratic senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren unveiled a plan Thursday that would shift the U.S. tax burden onto those who can most afford it: people with tax assets over $50 million. Warren says the proposed “ultra-millionaire tax” would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years while impacting just 0.1 percent of Americans.
In Binghamton, New York, school district officials are denying reports that four 12-year-old African-American girls were strip-searched by a middle school nurse and assistant principal after they allegedly acted “giddy” during a school lunch. The school district’s denial came after 200 people packed a school board meeting Tuesday evening to condemn the alleged incident, which they said left the four girls feeling humiliated and traumatized. The school board acknowledges the girls were detained on suspicion of possessing drugs—a suspicion that it admits was unfounded—but denies the girls were strip-searched.
New York City has agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Kalief Browder, a Bronx resident who died by suicide in 2015 at the age of 22 after being held in the Rikers Island jail for nearly three years without trial for a crime he did not commit. Kalief was just 16 years old in 2010 when he was sent to Rikers Island jail on suspicion of stealing a backpack. He always maintained his innocence and demanded a trial. Instead, he spent nearly three years at Rikers—nearly 800 days of that time in solitary confinement. When not in solitary, Kalief was repeatedly assaulted by guards and other prisoners. Kalief’s story led New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to pledge in 2017 to close the Rikers Island jail—in 10 years’ time.
In Florida, newly appointed Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned Thursday, just hours after photos emerged showing him in blackface while wearing a shirt reading “Katrina victim.” The photos were taken at a Halloween party in 2005 just two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, killing over 1,800 people and leaving much of New Orleans underwater. Ertel was appointed by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who narrowly defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in November. Gillum is African-American, and during the campaign he faced a string of racist attacks from outside groups—and from DeSantis, who told Florida voters ahead of the election not to “monkey this up.”
In Elwood, Indiana, a school superintendent has been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor after she used her son’s name to get medical treatment for a sick student who didn’t have health insurance. Casey Smitherman says she picked up the 15-year-old student earlier this month after the teen showed symptoms of strep throat. After a medical clinic refused to see the teen because he had no insurance, Smitherman took him to a second clinic and signed him in under her son’s name. She then filled a prescription for antibiotics at a local pharmacy under her insurance. In a statement, Smitherman said, “As a parent, I know how serious this illness can be if left untreated, and I took him to an emergency clinic. I knew he did not have insurance, and I wanted to do all I could to help him get well.”
And in Brussels, Belgium, an estimated 35,000 children held a one-day school strike Thursday, surrounding the European Parliament building and demanding urgent action on climate change. It was one of the largest student protests ever in the Belgian capital. Students said they’re ready to skip classes once a week until their demands are met.
Joppe Matthys: “We think that if we skip every Thursday, so we don’t go to school, that the big people in our country and in the world will say that it’s a problem and that they will do something about it.”
The students are following in the footsteps of now-16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, who is leading the school strike movement globally. She is now in Davos, Switzerland, addressing leaders at the World Economic Forum.