Democrats will take control over the House of Representatives as new members are sworn in today. Democrats picked up 40 seats in the November election, while in the Senate Republicans expanded their majority slightly to 53. Over 100 women will serve in the House for the first time in U.S. history, including the first two Native American women, the first two Latina women from Texas and the first two Muslim women. Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will be sworn in on the Qur’an that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, and she plans to wear a thobe—a traditional Palestinian gown—to the ceremony. Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is now the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress.
One congressional seat that will not be filled today is North Carolina’s 9th District. Republican Mark Harris was initially believed to be the winner of that race against Democrat Dan McCready, but the results were not certified, amid allegations of Republican voter fraud. With their new majority, Democrats now have the ability to subpoena the administration and are expected to launch investigations into President Trump and his administration.
Meanwhile, some House progressives are objecting to a proposed rule change backed by incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi known as ”PAYGO,” which requires that Congress offset any new spending with either tax increases or cuts to other programs. Some lawmakers have called the rule a conservative austerity measure that will hamper their efforts to pass progressive legislation. Representative Jim McGovern, the incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, has promised he won’t allow PAYGO to derail progressive causes like Medicare for all.
The partial government shutdown enters its 13th day as the impasse over Trump’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding shows little signs of progress. Democratic leaders said Wednesday they had a plan for reopening the government while creating a 30-day period for further negotiations on border security. Incoming House Speaker Pelosi says the plan does not include border wall funding. Trump reportedly told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that he would look “foolish” if he agreed to the deal. This is Nancy Pelosi speaking to reporters in front of the White House yesterday.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: “Tomorrow we will bring to the floor legislation which will open up government. It will be based on actions taken by the Republican Senate of bills that have passed on the floor of the Senate by over 90 votes and/or in committee unanimously, led by Senator Mitch McConnell. … Our question to the president and to the Republicans is: Why don’t you accept what you have already done to open up government and that enables us to have 30 days to negotiate for border security?”
People have been sharing the effects of the shutdown on their lives using the hashtag #ShutdownStories. Testimonies range from the inability to pay bills and rent to purchasing essential medicines and even food.
Meanwhile, Native American communities are also feeling the effects of the government shutdown as a disproportionate number rely on federally funded services, including for healthcare and food. Many Native Americans are also employed by the government. In the Southwest United States, some members of the Navajo Nation have been stuck at home, unable to drive to get groceries and other essentials as roads are not being cleared of snow. Overall, nearly a million workers are working without pay or are furloughed.
At his first Cabinet meeting of 2019, President Trump opined on a myriad of issues ranging from border wall funding to his recently departed Defense Secretary James Mattis. Trump suggested he fired Mattis, even though Mattis publicly announced he was resigning after disagreeing with Trump’s foreign policies. Speaking on North Korea, Trump said he received a “great letter” from Kim Jong-un and looked forward to a follow-up meeting following their historic June summit in Singapore.
President Donald Trump: “We’ve established a very good relationship with North Korea. That was going to be a war. That could have been a World War III, to be honest with you, because that would have—a lot of people would have had to get involved in that all over Asia, then it spreads beyond Asia. And instead, we have somebody that I really think wants to get on to economic development and making a lot of success and money, frankly, for his country.”
Trump asserted that if he were not president, a war would have broken out on the Asian continent. He also expressed confidence that North Korea was not testing nuclear weapons. It’s unclear whether the Trump administration will agree to lift sanctions, as demanded by North Korea, before moving forward with negotiations.
At the meeting, Trump also addressed the ongoing trade war with China and the recent stock market turmoil.
President Donald Trump: “We’re the talk of the world. And we had a little glitch in the stock market last month, but it’s still up, I guess, around 30 percent from the time I got elected. And it’s going to go up, once we settle trade issues. And once a couple of other things happen, it’s going to go up. It’s got a long way to go, tremendous amount to go. The trade deals we’re making are fantastic for our country.”
During the meeting, a poster featuring an image of Trump with the “Game of Thrones”-inspired phrase “Sanctions Are Coming November 5” was on display on the table in front of Trump. Trump initially tweeted the image on November 2 as harsh economic sanctions against Iran were set to kick in, following Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. The original phrase from “Game of Thrones” is “Winter is coming” and references the character of Jon Snow, who in the show led a caravan of refugees through a border wall.
In India, two women defied a centuries-old religious ban by entering the Sabarimala Hindu temple, that had until recently been prohibited to women of “reproductive age.” A Supreme Court ruling in September overturned the ban, but Hindu nationalists, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party, had opposed the ruling, and other attempts to enter the temple had been blocked. This is women’s rights activist Trupti Desai, who herself was previously blocked from entering the temple.
Trupti Desai: “The entry of women in Sabarimala today is an historic win for us. It is a victory of the movement of equality, and it is a victory of women power, because after the verdict of the Supreme Court the protesters were opposing the entry of women, and today that protest has become unsuccessful, as the women have entered there.”
The women’s successful entry early Wednesday came hours after throngs of women took to the streets in Kerala to form a massive 385-mile human chain, protesting gender inequality and in solidarity with women seeking to access the holy site. The action, organized by the leftist government coalition in Kerala, brought out over a million people, according to some estimates.
In Mali, government officials have deployed armed forces after reporting that 37 civilians were killed Tuesday by gunmen in central Mali. The victims of the attack are members of the Fulani community. Violence and tension between nomadic Fulani herders and Dogon farmers has been on the increase, reportedly sparked by land disputes. The Dogon have also accused the Fulani of ties to extremist groups.
In Russia, the U.S. ambassador, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, visited a U.S. citizen who is accused by the Russians of espionage. Paul Whelan, who was arrested in Russia Friday, is a former marine who now works for the auto parts supplier BorgWarner. He was reportedly in Moscow to attend a wedding. His family has said he is innocent of the espionage allegations. Some have speculated that Whelan’s arrest is retaliation for the arrest of Russian gun rights activist Maria Butina, who in December pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a Russian agent without registering with the Justice Department. Butina has been jailed since July, after being accused of trying to infiltrate the NRA and other right-wing groups in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
China’s space agency has released a photo from the lunar surface, after its Chang’e 4 space probe became the first ever to land on the far side of the moon. The mission could reveal important clues about the formation of both the Earth and its satellite, and advances China’s goal of landing humans on the moon in the 2020s.
In more space news, NASA’s New Horizons mission has sent back its first photo from Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever visited by a space probe. The icy asteroid is composed of two spheres smashed together resembling a snowman. It’s about 4 billion miles from Earth in a ring of debris known as the Kuiper Belt, left over from the solar system’s formation.
The National Rifle Association is suing the state of Washington after a new law banning the sale of semiautomatic assault rifles to anyone under the age of 21 went into effect on January 1. The law is part of a package of new gun control regulations approved by Washington state residents in November.
In media news, longtime NBC reporter and analyst William Arkin has left the network and wrote a scathing memo on his way out. In the memo, Arkin condemns the media’s reporting on U.S. wars and says he is not interested in taking part in the “Trump circus.” He writes, “I find it disheartening that we do not report the failures of the generals and national security leaders. I find it shocking that we essentially condone continued American bumbling in the Middle East and now Africa through our ho-hum reporting.” Arkin goes on to write about the network’s coverage of the Trump administration: “Of course [Trump] is an ignorant and incompetent impostor. And yet I’m alarmed at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war.” Click here to see our past interviews with William Arkin.
And in New York City, 11 activists who are currently fasting to protest the ongoing U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen were arrested yesterday for blocking the entrances to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Protesters, who were standing quietly with banners, were charged with disorderly conduct before being released. They enter their sixth day of fasting today, with planned actions in front of the United Arab Emirates, French and British missions to the U.N. On Friday, they will protest in front of Lockheed Martin’s New York City offices. This is Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence speaking before her arrest yesterday.
Kathy Kelly: “We’re a group of people with a deep and abiding concern about the United States’ policies, especially as they enact them in the United Nations, failing to save the lives of 87,500 children who have already starved.”