Virginia’s political crisis deepened Wednesday, with the state’s top three elected officials—all Democrats—facing scandals that threaten to upend their careers and Virginia’s Democratic leadership. On Wednesday, the woman who accused Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault came forward and identified herself as Dr. Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor at Scripps College in California. In a statement released through her law firm, Tyson detailed a 2004 encounter at the Democratic National Convention in Boston where she said Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex. Fairfax has denied the allegation of sexual assault, saying the encounter was consensual.
Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring resigned from his role as co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association after admitting he wore blackface at a party in the 1980s as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. His admission came just days after a racist photo emerged showing Governor Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page, depicting a man wearing blackface posing next to a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam initially apologized for the yearbook page but later said he was neither of the two men in the photo, while admitting to wearing blackface on another occasion that same year. If Gov. Northam, Lt. Gov. Fairfax and Attorney General Herring were to all step down, the next in succession for Virginia governor is House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a conservative anti-choice Republican. We’ll have more on Virginia’s political crisis after headlines.
In climate news, newly released data show 2018 was the fourth-warmest year on record, continuing a trend that has seen the past five years become the five warmest since reliable measurements began more than a century and a half ago. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says it’s part of a trend that’s poised to see the planet become much hotter.
Gavin Schmidt: “What kind of planet is a planet that’s 4 or 5 degrees warmer than it is now? Well, we haven’t seen that on Earth since about 3 million years ago in the Pliocene. At that point, we had forests all the way up to the Arctic Circle, there wasn’t any ice, there was no Greenland, and sea level was about 25 meters higher. Right? That was a very different planet, and that’s kind of where we’re headed, unless we do something about emissions.”
Wednesday’s climate report came as two House committees held simultaneous hearings to discuss the climate crisis. They were the first such meetings on Capitol Hill in six years.
Meanwhile, House Democrats convened a hearing on gun violence Wednesday—the first in more than eight years, since before the Sandy Hook school massacre of 2012. The hearing examined House Resolution 8, a bill to expand background checks to include all firearms purchases. The proceedings grew contentious after Florida Republican Congressmember Matt Gaetz—an ally of President Trump—argued that undocumented immigrants pose more of a threat to the U.S. than gun violence.
Rep. Matt Gaetz: “HR 8 would not have stopped many of the circumstances I raised. But a wall, a barrier on the southern border, may have. And that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Manuel Oliver: “[inaudible]”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler: “Gentleman will suspend.”
Congressmember Gaetz’s comments sparked protests in the committee room by Manuel Oliver and Fred Guttenberg, two parents who lost children to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Gaetz responded to their repeated protests by demanding the parents be banned from the hearing. Click to see our interviews with Manuel Oliver and Fred Guttenberg.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would require President Trump to remove U.S. armed forces from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has sparked what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a half-century. The bill’s sponsor, Congressmember Ro Khanna of California, said in a statement, “More than 14 million Yemenis—half the country—are on the brink of famine, and at least 85,000 children have already died from hunger and disease as a result of the war. Let’s end American complicity in the atrocities in Yemen.”
In Moscow, peace talks between the Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians wrapped up Wednesday with parties agreeing to a road map for ending the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan—now in its 18th year, the longest war in U.S. history. The government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did not attend the talks, which did not reach consensus on a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal. This is the Taliban’s chief negotiator.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai: “We are in negotiation with the American side, and we are trying that the American forces should go out as soon as it is possible.”
Reporter 1: “When?”
Reporter 2: “What’s the timeline?”
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai: “The timeline is not fixed so far, and it’s not agreed upon. But we are negotiating this.”
A Taliban official later said the Trump administration has agreed to pull half of all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of April, though a Pentagon spokesperson later denied the military has received orders to begin a withdrawal.
In Honduras, prosecutors have presented evidence charging a former energy company executive with masterminding the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was shot dead in her home in March of 2016. Cáceres’s assassination came as she led a campaign against a major hydroelectric dam being constructed on indigenous land. At the time of her death, the company building the dam was led by Roberto David Castillo Mejía, a former military intelligence officer. Prosecutors say Mejía provided logistics and resources to at least one of the seven men who were convicted in November of carrying out Cáceres’s assassination.
Back in the United States, New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has recalled most of her state’s National Guard troops from the U.S.-Mexico border, where they’d been stationed by her Republican predecessor at President Trump’s behest. Gov. Grisham timed her rebuke of Trump’s border policy to coincide with Tuesday’s State of the Union address, when she tweeted a previously unaired video from her successful 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham: “I’m Michelle Lujan Grisham. New Mexico is 49th in employment and 50th for schools. We’ve got to bust through some walls to make changes.”
Gov. Grisham’s order to remove National Guard troops from the border came just days after the Trump administration ordered the Pentagon to send more than 3,700 additional troops to the border. Among the latest to deploy are 250 soldiers sent to Eagle Pass, Texas, across the Rio Grande from a Mexican border town where a caravan of some 1,800 asylum seekers arrived this week. Customs and Border Protection says its agents can process fewer than 20 asylum claims a day at Eagle Pass.
The Supreme Court is poised to decide today whether a restrictive Louisiana anti-choice law can take effect, in a case that could determine whether millions of women will have continued access to abortions. The Louisiana law, passed in 2014, requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. Pro-choice groups call such statutes TRAP laws, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers”; they say the Louisiana law would leave the state with just a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical Texas law in a 5-4 ruling. The now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled with the majority in that decision; he’s since been replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
In Texas, civil rights groups are suing to block a Republican-led purge of voting rolls they say could see thousands of naturalized citizens wrongfully barred from voting in the next election. Four Texas-based nonprofits say the secretary of state and the Texas Department of Public Safety unlawfully sought to suppress the vote of immigrants by flagging tens of thousands of registered voters who declared they were not U.S. citizens when obtaining a driver’s license. The groups say most—if not all—of those flagged were later naturalized. Chiraag Bains, director of legal strategies at Demos, said, “The Secretary of State … is intentionally targeting new Americans and people of color in order to decrease minority voter participation, in flagrant violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.”
The Trump administration unveiled plans Wednesday to dramatically roll back restrictions against payday lenders who charge predatory interest rates. The plan would revoke an Obama-era rule that requires payday lenders verify that borrowers have the ability to pay back their loans, which often carry annual interest rates of nearly 400 percent—about 20 times the typical credit card interest rate. Critics say the plan by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would accomplish the opposite of what the agency was created to do when it was founded in 2011, trapping consumers in a cycle of debt.
In Chicago, teachers from four charter schools are striking to demand a pay raise, smaller class sizes and additional school support staff. Meanwhile, public school teachers in Oakland, California, voted overwhelmingly this week to authorize a strike, which could start as soon as the end of next week.
And the legendary folk music producer and political activist Izzy Young has died. From his music store and performance space, the Folklore Center, in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Izzy Young spent decades nurturing some of the biggest names in American music—including Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith. This is Izzy Young introducing a young Bob Dylan in May of 1962 on his folk music show on New York City’s Pacifica radio station WBAI.
Izzy Young: “We’ve just about reached the end of the program, and I’d like Bob Dylan to sing the last song, called 'The Answer Is Blowin' in the Wind.’ And—I’m sorry?”
Bob Dylan: “I was just going to sing it. Oh, is it 'The Answer Is Blowin' in the Wind’? That one. Oh, OK.”
Izzy Young: “Because I think this song, while being a topical song, is just filled with poetry that people of all kinds are going to enjoy.”
Bob Dylan: [singing] ”How many roads must a man walk down / Before he is called a man? / And how many seas must a white dove sail…”
That was Izzy Young and Bob Dylan on the New York radio station WBAI in 1962. The previous year, Young organized Dylan’s first major New York City concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall. Izzy Young died Monday at his home in Stockholm, Sweden, at the age of 90.