In Israel, as votes continue to be tallied, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be on the verge of securing a record fifth term in office. Netanyahu and his main challenger, ex-military chief Benny Gantz, both claimed victory in the tight race Tuesday night as the Likud and the newly formed Blue and White party both won 35 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu, however, has a clearer path to forming a coalition government with other far-right parties. Tuesday’s election came just days after Netanyahu vowed to annex illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he won. On Election Day, Netanyahu’s Likud party placed 1,200 hidden cameras at polling stations in Arab neighborhoods in what was widely viewed as an attempt to intimidate potential voters. Turnout was reportedly lower than usual in the neighborhoods. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza are not Israeli citizens and cannot vote. Many Palestinians and Arab Israelis argued there was no real choice in this election as both front-running parties have repeatedly expressed anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab views and policies. We’ll have more on the elections and the significance of the results after headlines with Palestinian attorney Diana Buttu and Israeli journalist and activist Haggai Mattar.
The purge of Department of Homeland Security leadership continued Tuesday with the resignation of Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady. This comes two days after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s ouster and one day after Director of the Secret Service Randolph “Tex” Alles was removed from his position. Grady’s exit clears the path for Kevin McAleenan, head of Customs and Border Protection, to become the acting DHS secretary. The purging of high-ranking DHS officials is said to be part of Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s plan to steer the administration toward even more hard-line immigration policies.
Reports also emerged Tuesday the Trump administration is pushing for Border Patrol agents to be put in charge of interviewing asylum seekers at the border. Miller reportedly argues it would make it more difficult for migrants to argue a “credible fear” of persecution in their country of origin and move forward in the asylum process. Initial interviews are currently conducted by Citizenship and Immigration Services officials.
Attorney General William Barr appeared before the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday, where lawmakers pressed for more details on the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Barr said he would release the redacted report within a week but that he had no plans to release the full report to Congress. Barr also said that he offered Mueller the opportunity to review his conclusions on the report but that Mueller declined. This is Congressmember Nita Lowey questioning Barr.
Rep. Nita Lowey: “President Trump has publicly stated that this report is a complete and total exoneration. Can you tell us who is factually accurate? And will the released report include details on the obstruction issue and why, as you noted, the president is not exonerated, or will that information be redacted?”
Attorney General William Barr: “I’ve already explained the information that’s going to be redacted from the report, the four categories. That is what’s going to govern the redactions.”
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for the full Mueller report. Barr will appear before a Senate panel today where lawmakers are expected to question him again about the Mueller report.
At a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told lawmakers that White House lawyers consulted with his agency about the possible release of President Trump’s tax records, leading Democrats to raise concerns about political interference. Last week, House Democrats formally requested the IRS give Congress copies of President Trump’s tax returns over the past six years. This is New York Congressmember Carolyn Maloney.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney: “I think the fact that there was any communication with the White House about this is deeply troubling and certainly violates the spirit of the law, if not the letter of the law, and I think we need to get to the bottom of this.”
Mnuchin did not indicate how his department would respond to the request, saying he intended to “follow the law,” while defending Trump’s right to keep his tax returns private.
Mnuchin also clashed with committee chair Maxine Waters. After a tense back-and-forth over whether he could leave the hearing, Mnuchin told Waters she was supposed to “take the gavel and bang it” to end the session, to which Waters responded, “Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.”
A new tax bill with bipartisan backing in both the House and Senate could make it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system for filing taxes. A provision in the House’s Taxpayer First Act would bar the agency from offering an easier, low-cost or cost-free way of filing, even though an estimated 70% of Americans are eligible to file for free based on their incomes. Tax filing companies such as TurboTax and H&R Block have long lobbied to block the IRS from offering the service in order to maintain their share of the e-filing market.
Airbnb has reversed its previous decision to bar listings from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The online vacation rental site decided to allow the homes to remain listed after facing a class-action lawsuit by the affected hosts. Airbnb said it will not take any profits from the listings and would instead donate them to humanitarian causes. Responding to the news, the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “We are dismayed that Airbnb has caved to the legal bullying of Israeli settlers … In backing down from its decision not to list properties in occupied Palestinian territory, Airbnb is in breach of its international human rights obligations, and is discriminating against Palestinians.”
New York City has declared a public health emergency over the growing measles outbreak. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said people in affected areas will face fines of up to $1,000 if they fail to get vaccinated or vaccinate their children. He also said schools in certain areas that permitted attendance by unvaccinated students could be fined or temporarily closed. The “epicenter” of the outbreak is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where vaccination rates among Orthodox Jews are particularly low. Two hundred eighty-five cases have been confirmed in New York City since the fall. This is New York City Mayor de Blasio announcing the new measures Tuesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: The only way to stop this outbreak is to ensure that those who have not been vaccinated get the vaccine. It’s crucial for people to understand: The measles vaccine works. It is safe. It is effective. It is time-tested.”
The Centers for Disease Control reported 465 cases of measles so far this year—the second-highest number since it was declared eliminated in 2000.
BuzzFeed News is reporting House Republicans are warning drug companies against complying with a House investigation into drug prices. In a letter sent to CEOs of major drug companies, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee warned that information they provide to the committee could be leaked to the public by Democratic Chair Elijah Cummings in an effort to tank their stock prices. Cummings requested information from 12 drug giants, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, in January as part of a broad investigation into how the industry sets prescription drug prices.
Federal prosecutors brought new money laundering charges Tuesday against 16 parents who paid bribes to get their children into top schools as part of the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are among the parents facing the additional charges, along with previously announced fraud charges, after they allegedly paid $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California by getting them recruited by the crew team—even though they did not practice the sport. Fourteen defendants pleaded guilty Monday to fraud charges.
President Trump is expected to sign two executive orders today to facilitate the approval of pipeline projects at a federal level, limiting states’ ability to regulate such projects. The move is intended in part to clear the way for permitting on the northeastern Constitution pipeline, which has stalled after New York invoked the Clean Water Act to reject the project on environmental grounds. 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said in a statement, “This is a massive abuse of power that does nothing other than line the pockets of Trump’s fossil fuel billionaire friends, all at the expense of our democracy and our safety. Trump can try to rewrite regulations in favor of Big Oil, but he can’t stop people power and our movement.”
In more environmental news, average temperatures across Alaska this spring are 20 degrees higher than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Multiple scientific reports have found that climate change is warming the Arctic at roughly twice the speed as other regions.
Representatives from Google and Facebook, as well as civil rights advocates, testified in front of Congress Tuesday on the rise of white nationalism and the spread of hate speech through social media. Lawmakers called the hearing in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which a white supremacist gunman killed 50 people at two mosques and live-streamed the massacre. This is Kristen Clarke of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Kristen Clarke: “Corrosive white supremacist movements are tearing away at the fabric of our nation. And without question, they are using online platforms to recruit new members, activate followers, target communities, organize rallies, stream their murders and incite violence.”
Partway through the hearing, YouTube had to turn off comments on a live stream of the hearing as users inundated the platform with racist, anti-Semitic and other hateful comments. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacists were responsible for more than three-quarters of domestic extremist murders in 2018.
And in New Zealand, lawmakers voted 119 to 1 on a gun reform bill that bans all semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. The bill comes less than a month after the Christchurch massacre. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced changes to New Zealand’s gun laws in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Ardern said the change was able to take place because of the victims and their families.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: “They will carry disabilities for a lifetime, and that’s before you consider the psychological impact. We are here because of them, and I believe that they are here with us, supporting what we are doing here today, as well, because these weapons were designed to kill, and they were designed to maim. And that is what they did on the 15th of March.”
The bill is expected to become law in the next few days.