President Trump delivered the State of the Union address from the House Chamber Tuesday night. In his speech, Trump repeated his calls for a border wall and referred to a “tremendous onslaught” of migrants allegedly trying to get into the country.
President Donald Trump: “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall. But the proper wall never got built. I will get it built.”
Trump, however, did not declare a national emergency over the border wall, as some had speculated. Trump also addressed the situation in Venezuela, where the U.S. has been accused of orchestrating the overthrow of sitting President Nicolás Maduro.
President Donald Trump: “Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela and its new president, Juan Guaidó.”
In his address, that lasted nearly an hour and a half, Trump also warned Democrats against what he termed “ridiculous partisan investigations,” which he said could hinder American prosperity, and attacked abortion protections recently passed in New York and proposed in Virginia. Trump said he will call for a federal ban on “late-term abortions.”
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams delivered the Democratic response to the address. Abrams slammed the recent government shutdown and spoke out against voter suppression. She also addressed gun control, climate change and immigration reform.
Stacey Abrams: “We know bipartisanship could craft a 21st century immigration plan, but this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart. Compassionate treatment at the border is not the same as open borders.”
In Virginia, the president of Eastern Virginia Medical School responded to the ongoing scandal around a 1984 yearbook photo which reportedly shows Democratic Governor Ralph Northam either in blackface or a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Richard Homan apologized for the pain inflicted by racist yearbook photos over the years, and announced the school would investigate how such photos made it into the yearbook for decades.
Northam, who so far has resisted mounting calls to resign, initially apologized for the photo, but later walked back his statements, claiming neither of the men in the photo was him, although he did admit to using blackface on another occasion that same year. Northam is reportedly hiring a private investigator to look into the photos.
Pope Francis acknowledged for the first time that priests and bishops were guilty of sexually abusing nuns.
Pope Francis: “The mistreatment of women is a problem. I would dare to say that humanity has not yet matured. Women are second-class citizens, and it starts from there, no? It is a cultural problem.”
Pope Francis has called a summit later this month on the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
An anti-nuclear activist has accused former Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Óscar Arias Sánchez of sexual assault. Alexandra Arce von Herold, a psychiatrist and nuclear disarmament advocate who frequently worked with Arias, said he approached her from behind, fondled her and forcefully digitally penetrated her while at his home in 2014. Arce filed a criminal complaint Monday against Arias.
In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters killed nearly 50 people in a series of attacks in the north of the country Tuesday. The largest death toll came in a raid on an army base in Kunduz province, where at least 26 soldiers and police officers were killed. The attacks come the week after U.S. and Taliban officials agreed to a framework for a peace deal in Afghanistan. During his State of the Union, Trump touted U.S. involvement in peace negotiations with the Taliban.
A new report by CNN finds that Saudi Arabia gave U.S.-made weapons to al-Qaeda-linked fighters and other militant factions in Yemen, in violation of a U.S.-Saudi arms deal. Some arms may have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are using the weapons to buy the loyalties of various militias or tribes and gain influence in Yemen’s political landscape, according to the report. A U.S. defense official confirmed to CNN there is an ongoing investigation into the matter.
General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday he was not told about Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria before Trump made his public announcement in December. Votel also told the committee that “the fight against ISIS is not over.”
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Steven Salaita, the American Studies Association—or ASA—and other defendants who were sued after endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—or BDS—movement. Professor Salaita joined the board of the ASA two years after the organization passed a boycott resolution, but was still named as a defendant. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Salaita, said in a statement, “These desperate lawsuits brought to silence advocates of Palestinian rights are not only losers—they’re helping to grow the movement by making even clearer who’s on the wrong side of history, who is the aggressor, who is unreasonable, and who wants to silence debate.”
The lawsuit is not the first time Salaita has been targeted in a case related to Israel and Palestine. In 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign withdrew a job offer for a tenured position for Salaita after he posted tweets critical of the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza.
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, senators passed a bill that included the controversial “anti-BDS” provision, aimed at preventing opposition to the Israeli government by allowing state and local governments to sanction U.S. companies boycotting Israel. The bill also includes an amendment opposing an immediate withdrawal of troops from Syria.
Senators held a confirmation hearing Tuesday for Neomi Rao, President Trump’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. California Senator Kamala Harris asked Rao about articles she wrote while in college in the mid-1990s, including a piece in which she blamed women for putting themselves at risk for sexual assault by drinking too much. Rao said she regrets her past views on sexual assault. This is Senator Harris questioning Rao.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “You said, quote, 'Women should take certain steps to avoid becoming a victim.' What steps do you have in mind that women should take to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault?”
Neomi Rao: “Senator, it’s just sort of a commonsense idea about, for instance, excessive drinking. You know, that was advice that was given to me by my mother.”
Sen. Kamala Harris: “So that’s one step you believe women should take to avoid becoming a victim of sexual assault?”
Neomi Rao: “Well, it is—it is just a way to make it less likely.”
Neomi Rao—who has never tried a case in court—also wrote in past articles that affirmative action is the “anointed dragon of liberal excess,” said welfare was “for the indigent and lazy,” and called LGBT issues a “trendy” political movement.
A former Koch Industries official is overseeing research at the Environmental Protection Agency that will inform the regulation of certain toxic chemicals found in drinking water, causing some to raise concerns over a possible conflict of interest. David Dunlap was hired to the EPA in October and did not require Senate confirmation for his position. Regulations on the toxic chemicals will determine whether companies that produce them—such as Koch Industries—can be held liable for cleanup costs.
The Intercept is reporting that a top aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told health insurance executives from Blue Cross Blue Shield that Democratic leadership had major objections to Medicare for all and would continue to try to block single-payer healthcare. In a December presentation, Pelosi adviser Wendell Primus said that strengthening the Affordable Care Act and lowering drug prices were instead the priorities for the party. Polls have found that a majority of Americans support the idea of Medicare for all. Many high-profile Democratic lawmakers have also come out in favor of single-payer healthcare, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, and Congressmember Tulsi Gabbard.
A federal judge approved a plan for Puerto Rico to restructure a portion of its debt Monday which would require Puerto Rico to pay $32 billion over 40 years. Critics say the deal will allow vulture funds to make huge profits by buying up those debts. Several of those vulture funds include public employee pension funds and the investment funds of Harvard, Princeton and Yale. Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who held a hearing on the proposed deal last month, echoed critics’ concerns about Puerto Rico’s ability to make the payments and the likely effects on public services. However, she said in her decision, “[T]he Court is not free to impose its own view of what the optimal resolution of the dispute could have been.” We’ll have more on Puerto Rico later in the broadcast.
In Alabama, the attorney general cleared the officer who shot and killed 21-year-old African-American man E.J. Bradford at a Birmingham-area mall on Thanksgiving Day, after responding to an unrelated shooting. The ACLU of Alabama said in a statement, “The … characterization of E.J. Bradford as a 'threat' that needed 'eliminating' reveals how little regard the Attorney General has for the life of this Black man. … We won’t stay quiet while law enforcement continues to inflict lethal violence against Black people and attempt to justify it.” Bradford’s family says they will sue.
In New York City, staff members and current and former prisoners at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center testified on Tuesday that the heat at the federal detention facility started to fail as early as mid-January. The hearing came following reports that quickly spread over social media during the weekend that over 1,600 prisoners were being held without heat, hot meals or electricity, including during last week’s polar vortex. After the hearing, Judge Analisa Torres visited the MDC herself to inspect conditions at the jail. You can go to democracynow.org for our two reports at MDC [Part 1, Part 2].
And celebrities and fans are sending messages of support to Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage, who was detained by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Sunday. ICE says British-born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known by his stage name 21 Savage, overstayed his visa after coming to the U.S. at the age of 12 in 2005. A “Free 21 Savage” petition, created by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, has so far gathered over 200,000 signatures. Lawyers for the rapper say he is being wrongfully detained and that his new visa application is currently pending.