Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnnell has invoked the so-called nuclear option, speeding up the confirmation of President Trump’s nominees. After just 33 minutes of debate, senators voted Wednesday along party lines in favor of the new rules, which will limit the Senate to just two hours of debate on whether to confirm nominees to U.S. district courts and other federal agencies. The move rolls back a more than two-century-old Senate tradition of unlimited debate for executive branch and judicial nominees. Under McConnell’s Senate leadership, President Trump has already succeeded in appointing federal judges at a record pace, in a move toward far-right judges that will reshape the judiciary for decades to come.
The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday formally requested the IRS give Congress copies of President Trump’s tax returns over the past six years. Trump is the only major-party presidential nominee in over 40 years not to release tax information to the public. President Trump repeated his claim Wednesday that he’s withholding his tax returns from public view because he’s being audited. Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, recently refuted that claim in congressional testimony. Democrat Dan Kildee, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Congress was requesting Trump’s tax documents from the IRS because “The president is the only person who can sign bills into law, and the public deserves to know whether the president’s personal financial interests affect his public decision making.”
In Florida, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have deported an undocumented Argentine immigrant rights activist who was arrested last month shortly before a film showcasing his activism premiered at the Miami Film Festival. Claudio Rojas was featured in the film “The Infiltrators,” which tells the story of undocumented activists who went undercover to expose abuses at a Broward County immigration detention center. Rojas has lived in the U.S. for 19 years and is a father and grandfather of U.S. citizens. His attorney called the deportation a “travesty of justice,” telling the Miami Herald, “It’s clear that this is retaliation.” Click here to see our interview from the Sundance Film Festival with the director of “The Infiltrators” and two of the activists who appear in the film.
In New Zealand, police say the man accused of opening fire with an assault rifle at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15 will face 50 murder charges and 39 counts of attempted murder when he appears in court on Friday. The 28-year-old Australian man is an avowed white supremacist who emailed out a racist manifesto minutes before the attacks began.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Senate has formally censured a lawmaker who blamed the killings on immigration policies that allowed Muslims to move to New Zealand. Far-right Senator Fraser Anning’s comments came on the day of the Christchurch massacre. Anning’s Senate colleagues on Wednesday denounced the remarks as “shameful” and “appalling.” This is Australia’s first female Muslim senator, Mehreen Faruqi.
Sen. Mehreen Faruqi: “Sadly, what Senator Anning said after the Christchurch massacre, however shocking it is, it isn’t out of character. Just a week before I joined this place, he gave a speech calling for a ban on people like me coming to this country and for a white Australia policy. He even invoked the despicable Final Solution in his speech.”
In Tennessee, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is investigating whether white supremacist graffiti found in the parking lot of the Highlander Center is linked to a fire last week that destroyed one of the civil rights institute’s buildings. On March 29, the fire tore through the main office of the Highlander Research and Education Center, the famed social justice organization that once hosted Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and trained Rosa Parks in nonviolent civil disobedience. This is Highlander co-director Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson.
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson: “We are physically OK. Everyone on our staff is physically OK. No one was physically harmed. … We did lose, obviously, some really important historical documents. It was not our full archive.”
Authorities are investigating the incident as a possible arson and hate crime, after a white power symbol was found spray-painted in the center’s parking lot. The symbol is frequently used by white power groups and was painted on one of the guns used by the alleged mosque shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month. In a statement, the Highlander Center said, “While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally.”
In Texas, police have dropped a felony arrest warrant against an African-American woman who was threatened with a gun and brutally beaten by a white man in a Dallas parking lot on March 21. Twenty-four-year-old L’Daijohnique Lee says what should have been a minor traffic dispute quickly escalated to violence when 30-year-old Austin Shuffield followed her, brandished an unlicensed handgun and slapped Lee’s cellphone out of her hands as she tried to call 911. After Lee fought back, Shuffield repeatedly punched her in the head while allegedly shouting racial slurs. The assault left Lee with a concussion and cranial swelling. Lee was the first to be charged in the case—on felony criminal mischief charges—for allegedly smashing the windows of her assailant’s truck after she was assaulted by him. But when a bystander’s video of the incident went viral on social media, prompting street protests, prosecutors dropped charges against Lee on Wednesday. Her attacker, Austin Shuffield, now faces multiple charges.
Elsewhere in Texas, one person was killed, and two others were hospitalized, after a blast tore through a chemical plant outside of Houston on Tuesday. The fire at the plant in Crosby, which produces a highly flammable gas used in the production of jet fuel, was the second such fire at a Houston-area chemical plant in less than three weeks. On March 17, a massive fire at a petrochemical plant in Deer Creek sent a cloud of toxic smoke over Houston and as far away as Austin, 150 miles to the west.
President Trump is under fire for falsely claiming that windmills cause cancer. Trump made the remark in a speech to the National Republican Congressional Committee Tuesday, where he touted U.S. oil and gas drilling while mocking renewable energy.
President Donald Trump: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations. Your house just went down 75% in value. And they say the noise causes cancer. You told me that one, OK? Whirr! Whirr!”
On Wednesday, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley called Trump’s remark “idiotic,” adding, “I wish his staff would tell him I’m the father and now the grandfather of wind energy tax credits.”
On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers grilled Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta Wednesday over his role in securing a plea deal for billionaire serial sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein that allowed Epstein to avoid a federal trial and possible life in prison. In February, federal Judge Kenneth Marra ruled Acosta broke the law in 2008 while working as a federal prosecutor, after he concealed the plea agreement in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Acosta’s move effectively ended an FBI probe into the case alleging Epstein sexually abused and trafficked more than 30 underage girls.
Secretary Acosta was called before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, where he was confronted by Congressmember Katherine Clark and other Democrats. Clark noted that under federal sentencing guidelines, Epstein should have faced a minimum prison sentence of 360 years.
Rep. Katherine Clark: “But that’s not what happened, because there was a power dynamic here, wasn’t there? We had teenage girls, with no power, who were rape and sexual assault victims. And we had Mr. Epstein and his friends, extremely powerful, wealthy and connected people. And in a ruling on February 21st of 2019, Judge Marra found you illegally entered a non-prosecution agreement that allowed Mr. Epstein to serve just 13 months in county jail.”
Jeffrey Epstein was known to socialize with many prominent figures, including Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
Former Vice President Joe Biden says he’ll be more mindful of people’s personal space, after two women stepped forward to accuse the likely 2020 presidential candidate of inappropriate touching. Earlier this week, former congressional aide Amy Lappos said Biden approached her during a Democratic fundraiser in Connecticut in 2009, pulled her head toward his face and rubbed noses with her. Her allegation came days after former Nevada Assemblymember Lucy Flores said Biden smelled her hair and planted a kiss on the back of her head at an event in 2014. This is Joe Biden speaking in a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday.
Joe Biden: “Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted. And the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset. And I get it. I get it. I hear what they’re saying. I understand it. And I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility.”
Many Democrats said Biden’s statement fell short. Lucy Flores said in a statement, “Given the work he has done on behalf of women, Vice President Biden should be aware of how important it is to take personal responsibility for inappropriate behavior, and yet he hasn’t apologized to the women he made uncomfortable.”
New Mexico’s governor has signed a bill abolishing Columbus Day—and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day—on the second Monday in October. New Mexico joins Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont, Oregon, South Dakota and Hawaii in honoring indigenous peoples with a holiday. Meanwhile, more than 50 cities across the U.S. have also voted to stop honoring Columbus, an Italian explorer who massacred and enslaved Arawak indigenous people and opened the door to the European colonization of the Americas.
And in the Philippines, the nation’s highest court has ordered the government to release documents about thousands of deaths linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Human rights groups say the release will shed light on extrajudicial killings that opposition lawmakers say have left 20,000 dead since Duterte took office in 2016.
This comes as award-winning journalist Maria Ressa pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of tax evasion, following her second arrest on what she says are bogus, politically motivated charges. Ressa is the founder of the independent news site Rappler and a vocal critic of President Duterte. She spoke to reporters just after her “not guilty” plea.
Maria Ressa: “I still say that these cases are all politically motivated. I mean, where in the world do you come home on a Friday, get arrested, post bail, and, on a Monday, get another arrest warrant and post bail again? I have been arrested twice in a little over a month, a month and a week or so, right? So, it’s clear, but we will fight every single one and hope for the integrity of the men and women who will handle these cases.”