Incoming members of the 116th Congress made history Thursday as the most diverse group of lawmakers ever sworn in. Over 100 women now serve in the House, along with the most LGBTQ, black and Latino members in history. Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California was officially elected speaker of the House, regaining the gavel she lost after the 2010 midterm elections brought eight years of Republican control to the House.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Our nation is in an historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke and demanded a new dawn. They called upon the beauty of our Constitution, our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I, the first branch of government, co-equal to the presidency and to the judiciary.”
Fifteen Democrats, including some freshman lawmakers, defected against Pelosi’s speakership, either voting for an alternative candidate or simply voting “present.” As a first order of business, Pelosi and House Democratic leaders sought to end the partial government shutdown, passing a package of spending bills that would reopen the federal government without meeting Trump’s demand for $5 billion for expanding the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House immediately threatened a veto.
House Democrats also approved a rules package for the new Congress that, among other things, imposes a rule known as ”PAYGO,” which requires Congress to offset any new spending with either tax increases or budget cuts. Only three Democrats—Ro Khanna of California, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York—voted “no.” Critics say PAYGO is a conservative austerity measure that could hamper efforts to pass progressive legislation.
The House also voted to create a new select committee on climate change, to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to allow lawmakers to wear religious headwear on the House floor. That change will impact Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American Democrat from Minnesota who wears a hijab. Meanwhile, Washington state Democratic Congressmember Pramila Jayapal said Thursday she’s been given the green light by Democratic leaders to hold hearings on whether to create a federal “Medicare for All” single-payer healthcare system by lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to zero. Both the House Rules and Budget committees are expected to take up the issue. And Democrats are pledging to use the power of subpoena to investigate President Trump, the Trump Organization and his Cabinet. New York Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said this week he may subpoena acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker over his role in seeking to derail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
President Trump made his first appearance ever in the White House press briefing room Thursday, flanked by Border Patrol and ICE officials. After congratulating Nancy Pelosi on regaining her gavel, Trump repeated his demands for $5 billion in new spending toward a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
President Donald Trump: “Without a wall, you cannot have border security. It won’t work. You see what’s just been put out on social media, where thousands of people are rushing the border. Having a drone fly overhead—and I think nobody knows much more about technology, this type of technology, certainly, than I do. Having drones and various other form of sensors, they’re all fine, but they’re not going to stop the problems that this country has.”
While Trump called it a press briefing, he wouldn’t take questions. House Speaker Pelosi responded to Trump’s demand by saying, “How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall.” On Thursday evening, Trump’s Instagram account posted a photo of Trump’s face appearing above a steel-slat border wall and the caption “The Wall Is Coming.” The caption’s font is lifted from the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones” and references its signature slogan, “Winter Is Coming.” It’s Trump’s latest “Game of Thrones” reference. In a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump placed a large poster on the table in front of him with the words “Sanctions Are Coming,” referring to U.S. sanctions on Iran. The poster went unremarked on, and the White House later declined to comment on it. HBO has protested against Trump’s use of its trademark.
This comes as the Department of Homeland Security requested that the Pentagon send more troops to string concertina wire along 160 miles of existing border fence. The move would extend the military’s presence on the U.S.-Mexico border until at least the end of September. The Pentagon’s border mission, which Trump ordered ahead of the midterm elections, had been set to expire at the end of January.
Brazil’s newly inaugurated far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, held his first-ever Cabinet meeting on Thursday, as defenders of the Amazon warned his administration is moving to hand vast swaths of rainforest over to Brazil’s powerful agribusiness sector. Just hours after taking the oath of office, Bolsonaro transferred decision-making over the regulation and creation of indigenous land claims from the Justice Ministry to the Agriculture Ministry. The move threatens indigenous groups who live on 13 percent of Brazilian territory. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro has dropped LGBTQ protections from the mandate of his Human Rights Ministry. He’s pledged to speed the privatization of publicly owned industries, to roll back pension benefits while raising the retirement age, and he’s seeking to toughen prison sentencing guidelines.
In Mexico, human rights groups and family members are demanding justice after the mayor of a town in the southern state of Oaxaca was gunned down on New Year’s Day, just hours after taking office. Alejandro Aparicio was surrounded by supporters and publicly touring city offices when he was shot on the street. The gunman was pinned to the ground until police could arrive to arrest him; he’s been described as a 34-year-old former police officer from northern Mexico. Aparicio’s widow, Victoria Feria, believes the killer did not act on his own.
Victoria Feria: “We want to do everything possible to clarify this murder, because there can be no impunity. That is what we are asking for as a family, to clarify the killing and to support us.”
Aparicio was a member of the progressive party of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. His death came as human rights researchers said 175 Mexican politicians were killed over a 12-month period ending last August.
The Trump administration is warning Iran against launching satellites, calling its space program a pretext for a ballistic missile program. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that three planned Iranian rocket launches would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at preventing Iran from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. Iran’s foreign minister fired back on Twitter, saying it has the right to a civilian space program, and arguing the U.S. is in breach of U.N. Resolution 2231. That resolution saw the Security Council officially endorse the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration unilaterally pulled out of last year.
Back in the United States, The Washington Post reports that recently departed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke faces a Justice Department criminal probe into whether he lied to his agency’s inspectors general. The alleged lies came as Zinke faced inquiries into his role in reviewing a proposed casino project in Connecticut and over real estate dealings in Montana. Zinke is also the subject of more than a dozen other federal ethics investigations.
Newly revealed tax filings show Google shifted $23 billion to accounts in Bermuda in 2017 as part of a complex tax avoidance scheme that saved the tech giant billions of dollars in revenue. The scheme involved funneling money through Google Ireland Holdings and a Dutch shell company based in Bermuda, where corporations pay no income tax. The scheme, known as the “Double Irish Dutch Sandwich,” is legal, although Ireland’s government has said it will close a loophole allowing the arrangement in 2020.
President Trump is reportedly preparing to alter federal anti-discrimination rules in a far-reaching rollback of civil rights protections. The changes would impact so-called disparate impact regulations meant to fight practices that harm people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community and other groups. The rollback could impact education, housing and other aspects of American life. In response, Jeff Robinson of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “It is shameful that this administration is considering dismantling tools to fight discrimination rather than using its power to foster respect for the dignity and equality of all people.”
In Texas, a manhunt is underway for the killer of Jazmine Barnes, a 7-year-old African-American girl gunned down while in a car with her mother and three of her sisters. Jazmine’s mother, LaPorsha Washington, was injured in Sunday’s drive-by shooting near a Houston-area Walmart store.
LaPorsha Washington: “I didn’t even see him. I didn’t see the truck. I didn’t see anything but shattered glass and bullets coming toward my car. … She did not deserve this at all. We was going to get coffee—coffee—and my baby lost her life.”
On Thursday, police released a sketch of the killer based on the eyewitness accounts of Jazmine’s mother and two of her older sisters. He’s described as a white man with blue eyes and a thin build in his thirties or forties. Police also released a video showing a red truck that was allegedly driven by the killer. The shooting has drawn international attention, with family members concerned it was a hate crime. The NFL star DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans said this week he’ll donate his $29,000 playoff bonus check to help pay for funeral costs and to bring Jazmine’s killer to justice.
And in Maryland, a Salvadoran mother of three U.S. citizens has taken sanctuary in a Unitarian Universalist church as she fights possible deportation. Rosa Gutierrez Lopez took refuge in the church in the D.C. suburb of Bethesda on December 10, the same day that Immigration and Customs Enforcement ordered her to leave the U.S.
Rosa Gutierrez Lopez: “Under the Obama administration, I only went to report in every year, and gave my name, my address and everything, and then I would go back the next year. On the contrary, under Donald Trump’s administration, I received an ankle bracelet, which was very frustrating for me. It hurts my soul, because I’m not a criminal.”