President Trump vowed on Wednesday to hit Iran with new sanctions but appeared to pull back from taking any new military action. Tension between the two countries soared after the U.S. assassinated Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport last week. Iran retaliated by firing 22 ballistic missiles at military bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces, but no one was injured in the attack. Iran had warned the Iraqi government about the strike in advance. On Wednesday afternoon, two small rockets also later landed near Baghdad’s Green Zone. They did not cause any casualties or damage to coalition facilities, and no group has claimed responsibility.
The House is slated to vote today on a war powers resolution aiming to limit President Trump’s ability to take future military action against Iran without congressional authorization. A number of Republicans say they will support the resolution, after lawmakers attended a closed-door briefing on Iran on Wednesday with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley. This is Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, speaking after the briefing.
Sen. Mike Lee: “What I found so distressing about that briefing was that one of the messages we received from the briefers was: Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of the appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran, and that if you do, you’ll be emboldening Iran — the implication being that we would somehow be making America less safe by having a debate or a discussion about the appropriateness of further military involvement against the government of Iran. Now, I find this insulting and demeaning. … I don’t care whether they’re with the CIA, with the Department of Defense or otherwise. To come in and tell us that we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran, it’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s wrong.”
We’ll have more on the tensions between the U.S. and Iran after headlines.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly met with President Trump at the White House Wednesday, where they discussed Trump’s upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate. CNN reports McConnell walked Trump through the trial format. McConnell has said he will coordinate the trial with the White House and that he is not an impartial juror — fueling criticism from Democratic lawmakers who accuse McConnell of trying to preside over a sham trial.
Ukrainian International Airlines has announced an indefinite suspension of all flights to Iran after a Boeing 737 passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran en route to Kiev, killing all 176 aboard, early Wednesday morning. After the crash, Iranian officials said the plane suffered technical problems. But Iranian investigators now say the plane was on fire while it was still in the air. Ukrainian investigators are looking into the possibility that an anti-aircraft missile could have hit the passenger jet or that there was an engine malfunction. Iran says it is withholding the plane’s black box and will not give it to Boeing or the Americans. The jet crash came only hours after Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house U.S. and Iraqi troops as revenge for the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last week. The jet was a predecessor to Boeing’s flawed 737 MAX passenger jet, which has been grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes that killed 346 people.
In election news, the youth climate justice group known as the Sunrise Movement has voted in a landslide to back Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. The Sunrise Movement has more than 10,000 members, with 318 chapters nationwide. Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have all endorsed the Sunrise Movement’s signature policy: the Green New Deal.
In news on climate change, a new analysis from one of the world’s largest insurance companies says hurricanes, wildfires and floods cost $150 billion globally in 2019 and that this figure is expected to increase in the coming years. In Australia, the death toll from the raging, climate-fueled wildfires has again risen — to 27 people and an estimated 1 billion animals. This is Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “There are 27 confirmed fatalities, and there have been, on this morning’s reports to us, 2,131 homes lost, but I’m sure over the course of the day, as further damage assessments have been undertaken, particularly in Victoria, these numbers continue to sadly change, and they continue to escalate. Fire weather is increasing in the south and east today, and it will spike along the east coast tomorrow.”
Prime Minister Morrison has opposed efforts to curb catastrophic climate change, and he famously brought a lump of coal to the floor of Parliament in 2017 to mock opposition lawmakers. Meanwhile, conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, The Australian, has repeatedly claimed that this year’s fires are not worse than in years past. In fact, scientists say this year’s fire season has scorched more of New South Wales than in the previous 15 years combined. His media company, News Corp, has also spread misinformation that has inflated the role of arsonists in the fires and has downplayed the role of climate change.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has announced she’s cancer-free, following successful treatment for a malignant tumor on her pancreas. The 86-year-old justice is the leader of the Supreme Court’s four-member liberal wing. The court is scheduled to hear a slew of landmark cases, including about abortion, the Second Amendment and the effort to force Trump to release his tax and financial records.
In immigration news, outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales says his government has not agreed to receive Mexicans who wish to seek asylum in the United States. Under a bilateral agreement, the United States can send Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala to instead seek asylum there. But the Trump administration now says it wants to extend this plan to Mexican asylum seekers, as well, sparking pushback from Morales. His terms ends next week, and he says Trump will have to negotiate this idea with his successor, Alejandro Giammattei. Mexican asylum seekers are also speaking out against the Trump administration’s plan. These are two Mexican migrants, Rosario and Lizbeth, speaking from the border town of Tijuana.
Lizbeth: “I have never considered it. I’ve never been there, but I know it’s not a good option for us. Many from Guatemala flee, so I will never consider going there.”
Rosario: “Kids suffer, and it doesn’t make sense that they want to send us to a country where we also face danger. I don’t think so. Supposedly we’re seeking asylum for safety, and the fact that they want to send us to a country where they’re also fleeing violence is not fair.”
Facebook is insisting that it will not limit lies in political campaign ads, refusing to back down from a policy that has come under massive criticism from lawmakers and voting rights activists. Facebook also said it would continue to allow so-called microtargeting for political ads, a tactic for targeting advertisements for a tiny group of Facebook users. Critics say microtargeting is an ideal tactic for spreading fake information.
This comes as a Facebook executive wrote in an internal memo that the Trump campaign’s Facebook advertising strategy was key in his 2016 election and that if Facebook keeps the same advertising policies in place, it could lead to his re-election. In the memo, Andrew Bosworth wrote, “So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes … That brings me to the present moment, where we have maintained the same ad policies. It occurs to me that it very well may lead to the same result.”