A White House whistleblower told lawmakers senior Trump administration officials overturned at least 25 security clearance denials despite “serious disqualifying issues.” According to a memo released Monday, Tricia Newbold, who works in the White House Personnel Security Office, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the individuals had been flagged by her office over concerns including blackmail, conflicts of interests, criminal conduct and foreign influence.
The chair of the Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, indicated he would seek to subpoena Carl Kline, who served as Newbold’s supervisor and overruled her denials. Newbold said she was subject to retaliation for refusing to issue the clearances, including a 14-day suspension without pay.
The White House has previously come under fire for its handling of security clearances. Reports emerged earlier this year that President Trump pressured his former Chief of Staff John Kelly to grant clearances for his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, despite the objections of intelligence officials. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are reportedly included in the group of 25 individuals Newbold raised.
Two competing disaster relief bills have stalled in the Senate as Democrats and President Trump continue to fight over federal relief funds for Puerto Rico. The Senate bill supported by Republicans, which fell short of the 60 votes needed to pass Monday, contains just $600 million for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program, a number Democrats say is far too low as many Puerto Ricans are still recovering from the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Democrats also say aid should cover rebuilding and other forms of disaster relief. A second bill—a companion to a January package passed in the House—also failed, after Republicans objected to the lack of relief funding for recent flooding in the Midwest.
On Monday, Trump lashed out at Puerto Rico’s political leaders, tweeting, “Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess–nothing works.” In September, Trump reportedly told White House officials he thought Puerto Rico was misusing federal funds and that he wanted to withhold any additional recovery assistance from the island.
Over 1 million Puerto Ricans started to see cuts to their food stamp benefits starting last month, including hundreds of thousands of children and elderly people. Because the island receives funding for government programs through block grants, congressional approval is required, and the amount of funding is much smaller than for U.S. states.
Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono blasted Republican tactics, tweeting, “Instead of passing an inclusive disaster supplemental, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are picking winners and losers and pitting citizens against each other by playing politics with disaster relief. This is an unconscionable, false choice. Whether they live in Ponce, Puna, Lincoln, or Saipan, they are all Americans. We should not discriminate as to which Americans should receive disaster relief.”
We’ll have more on this story and the situation in Puerto Rico after headlines with New York Congressmember Nydia Velázquez.
President Trump announced via a series of tweets Monday night Republicans are “developing a really great HealthCare Plan” to replace the Affordable Care Act but that it won’t be introduced until after the 2020 elections. The tweets come after the Justice Department last week said courts should overturn the entire Affordable Care Act, not just the individual mandate provision, which is being challenged in a federal appeals court.
Some Republicans have publicly opposed the Justice Department move. Last week, Senator Susan Collins sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr asking him to reconsider the decision, writing, “The administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress.” Republican state attorneys from Ohio and Montana filed amicus briefs with the appeals court Monday, arguing striking down the ACA would cause major disruptions for patients, medical providers, insurance companies and employers. Trump’s push to repeal and replace the ACA failed in the Republican-controlled Senate in 2017, and many Republican lawmakers said the move hurt incumbents and candidates in last November’s elections.
Meanwhile, over 100 Democrats are backing a Medicare-for-all bill in the House, and most Democratic 2020 hopefuls have expressed support for a Medicare-for-all system. We’ll have more on healthcare later in the broadcast.
In Britain, lawmakers failed to agree on any of four proposed options for Brexit Monday, leaving the country with still no plan in place 10 days away from its scheduled departure from the EU. The measures included a second referendum and a proposed common customs union with Europe, which lost by a mere three votes. This is leader of the opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn speaking after Monday’s votes.
Jeremy Corbyn: “I suggest that possibly the House should have a chance to consider again the options that we had before us today in a debate on Wednesday, so that the House can succeed where the prime minister has failed in presenting a credible economic relationship with Europe for the future that prevents us crashing out with no deal.”
Prime Minister Theresa May is discussing the next steps today during a Cabinet meeting, which could include attempting to get a longer Brexit extension from the EU, or possibly even another vote on her plan. The plan May negotiated with European leaders has already been rejected three times.
In Algeria, representatives for embattled President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he will resign by April 28, the official end to his fourth term. The announcement, made via state television, follows weeks of popular protests calling for him to step down. Last month, he withdrew his candidacy for a fifth term but postponed the upcoming elections, sparking fears he would seek to remain in power through 2019 or beyond. Student groups are calling for more protests to demand an overhaul of the political system and an end to the ruling class which has been in power for decades.
In the West Bank, Israeli forces shot and killed a 23-year-old Palestinian man and wounded at least three others during an overnight raid, according to Palestinian health officials. The shooting occurred near the Qalandiya refugee camp, outside East Jerusalem. Witnesses say Israeli soldiers fired live shots and released tear gas and stun grenades after crowds gathered at the site of the raids.
On Monday, the U.N. called on Brunei to stop new laws, set to go into effect Wednesday, that would bring back the death penalty for homosexuality and adultery, among other so-called offenses. The law would also allow corporal punishments like flogging and amputation. Brunei has effectively had a moratorium on the death penalty since 1957, but recently announced plans to implement elements of Sharia law in the Muslim-majority nation. This is a spokesperson for the U.N. Office for Human Rights.
Ravina Shamdasani: “The death penalty always, without a doubt, disproportionately affects people who are already vulnerable, in every part of the world where it is still retained. Women, minorities, people who come from poor backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to the application of the death penalty. And no judiciary in the world is free from mistakes.”
Celebrities including actor George Clooney and musician and LGBT rights advocate Elton John have called for a boycott of hotels owned by the sultan of Brunei, which include the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air.
Back in the U.S., the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 against a death row prisoner in Missouri who argued that he should be executed with lethal gas rather than lethal injection because of a medical condition that would lead to excruciating pain and could result in him suffocating to death.
The Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual” punishment, but conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, representing the majority opinion, argued that it doesn’t say all pain must be avoided. He said, a painless death was “a luxury not guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes.”
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer likened the decision to sentencing the prisoner to torture, saying it would be “no less painful” than “burning at the stake.”
Economic and policy experts are warning that Trump’s threatened border closure between the U.S. and Mexico could result in a hit of billions of dollars of losses to the economy by disrupting trade and the daily flow of goods and people between the two nations. Members of Trump’s own administration have expressed concerns with the possible closure; CNN reports one official warned the consequences could be “catastrophic.” It’s unclear whether Trump will follow through with his threat, which he announced Friday as a consequence if Mexico failed to stop several Central American caravans from arriving at the U.S. border. Last year, he also issued similar threats, once even saying he would close the border permanently.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports President Trump may soon name an “immigration czar” to coordinate policy across federal agencies. Trump is reportedly considering former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for the position. Kobach is a key architect of the GOP’s voter suppression efforts nationwide, is fiercely anti-immigrant and received donations from white nationalists during his unsuccessful run for governor of Kansas last year.
In public health news, the ongoing outbreak of measles across the U.S. has reached the second highest level since 2000—the year health officials declared the disease eliminated. Three hundred eight-seven confirmed cases have been reported across 15 states in the first three months of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that’s more than the total number of cases reported in all of 2018. Health experts say the contagious illness is spreading in other parts of the world, as well, including Europe and Asia.
Rockland County in New York, which has seen an outbreak, primarily among the Orthodox Jewish community, recently banned unvaccinated children from all public spaces. Some states are considering measures to increase vaccination requirements, including barring “belief-based” or other nonmedical exemptions that allow parents to opt out of inoculating their children.
A second woman has come forward accusing former Vice President Joe Biden of inappropriate touching. Amy Lappos says Biden approached her during a Democratic fundraiser in Connecticut in 2009 and proceeded to pull her head toward his face and rub noses with her. Lappos told the Hartford Courant newspaper Monday, “It wasn’t sexual, but he did grab me by the head. He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me. When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth.”
Last week, former Nevada Assemblymember Lucy Flores said Biden had inappropriately touched her during her run for lieutenant governor in 2014. Flores said Biden smelled her hair and planted a kiss on the back of her head. Biden, who is widely expected to launch a presidential campaign in the coming weeks, said in a statement that he did not believe he had ever acted inappropriately with women during his decades in public life.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday Boeing 737 MAX airplanes will remain grounded for several more weeks as engineers continue to work on fixes to the automated flight control software that is thought to be the cause of two recent crashes that killed nearly 350 people. Several investigations have been launched into the development and the approval of the aircraft.