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10 things you need to know today: January 15, 2019

Harold Maass
Steve King at a committee hearing
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GOP Rep. Steve King dropped from committees over white supremacy remarks

House Republican leaders on Monday unanimously voted to strip Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) of his committee assignments over comments questioning why "white supremacy" and "white nationalist" had become offensive terms. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said King's comments, which he made to The New York Times, were "beneath the dignity of the Party of Lincoln and the United States of America." King, a staunch opponent of illegal immigration who had served on the Agriculture and Judiciary committees, said his comments were "mischaracterized," and called the punishment a "political decision that ignores the truth." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested King should find "another line of work;" Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said King should resign. House Democrats introduced a resolution to censure King for comments dating to 2006. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]


Trump rejects GOP ally's call to temporarily end shutdown

President Trump said Monday that he rejected the suggestion by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to temporarily reopen the government. Graham, a key Trump ally, had urged Trump to accept a stopgap spending deal to fund the federal government for about three weeks to allow time for negotiations with Democrats on funding Trump's border wall and other border security matters. "I'm not interested. I want to get it solved," Trump told reporters. "I don't want to just delay it. I want to get it solved." Trump also said he would not declare a national emergency to free up funding for the wall. The shutdown is now in its 25th day, with no end in sight for the standoff over Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to fund the wall on the Mexican border. [The Hill, The Associated Press]


Attorney general nominee says he'll protect Mueller investigation

President Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is promising to let Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish his investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates. Democrats fear Barr could move to hamper Mueller's inquiry because he sent an unsolicited memo to Justice Department officials and Trump's lawyers last year criticizing Mueller's partial focus on whether Trump obstructed justice by firing James Comey as FBI director. Barr sought to ease those concerns in written testimony he plans to make Tuesday at the start of his two-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. "It is in the best interest of everyone — the president, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people — that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work," Barr said. [The New York Times]


Trump contraception-coverage rules now blocked nationwide

A federal judge on Monday blocked the Trump administration's new rules allowing more employers to opt out of offering workers no-cost birth control from going into effect in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As part of the Affordable Care Act, employer insurance plans have to include free contraceptives; religious groups are exempt, but the new rules would give more employers, including schools and nonprofits, the chance to opt out. On Sunday, a judge ruled there are "serious questions" about whether this violates the ACA, and he temporarily blocked the rules in 13 states and D.C. Pennsylvania sued the administration, and on Monday, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia wrote that if enforced, the rules could cause "irreversible" harm, and issued a nationwide injunction. [Reuters]


L.A. teachers go on strike

Los Angeles teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 30 years, calling for reducing class sizes, increasing pay, and hiring more support staff. About 31,000 members of the teachers union had agreed to participate in the walkout, which came after negotiations broke down on Friday despite a sweetened offer from the L.A. Unified School District, the nation's second largest with more than 600,000 students. "We're marching for the future of public education," said third-grade teacher Michael La Mont, 48. "No one's doing this for fun. We're missing our kids. It's raining. We're not going to get paid." Newly inaugurated Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) urged both sides to reach a deal. "This impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families," Newsom said in a statement. [Los Angeles Times]


Native American leaders criticize Trump joke citing Wounded Knee massacre site

Native American activists and leaders on Monday slammed President Trump for joking about the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre site, where U.S. soldiers killed and injured hundreds of Sioux men, women, and children. Trump's tweet mocked a video posted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Democratic presidential hopeful Trump calls "Pocahontas" because of her claims of American Indian heritage. Trump said the clip "would have been a smash" if she had recorded it "from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb." Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said Monday that the victims' "memories should not be desecrated as a rhetorical punch line," and that his group condemned "in the strongest possible terms the casual and callous use of these events as part of a political attack." [The Washington Post]


Supreme Court rejects challenge to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Texas bank's challenge of the constitutionality of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bank questioned whether the power given to the CFPB's sole director violates the authority of presidents under the Constitution to appoint and remove certain federal officials. If the justices had ruled in favor of the bank, a president would have been able to fire the CFPB's director for any reason. The agency was set up under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. It has faced frequent criticism from conservatives, and the Trump administration has ditched rules as a way of limiting its enforcement actions. The CFPB was passed by Democrats under former President Barack Obama after the 2007-2009 financial crisis in an effort to discourage predatory financial practices. [Reuters]


Pentagon extends deployment of troops to border

The Pentagon said Monday it would extend the assignment of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border for eight months, extending President Trump's use of the military in his campaign against illegal immigration. The deployment, which Trump ordered before the November midterm elections, had been scheduled to end Jan. 31, but Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approved a request to assist the Department of Homeland Security through September. There are 2,300 active-duty troops assigned to the border in California, Arizona, and Texas, down from a peak of 5,900. The Pentagon said it is "transitioning its support at the southwestern border from hardening ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry." The military also will provide aviation support. [The Washington Post]


Trudeau says China 'arbitrarily' sentenced Canadian to death

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday accused China of applying capital punishment "arbitrarily," after a Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man, Robert Schellenberg, to death for drug smuggling. China called Trudeau's remarks "irresponsible." The clash escalated tensions between the two countries that started in December when Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies, in response to a U.S. extradition request linked to an investigation into suspected violations of U.S. trade sanctions. Days after Meng's arrest, China detained two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and business consultant Michael Spavor, on suspicion of endangering state security. [Reuters]


Antarctica is melting 6 times faster today than it was in the 1970s

Antarctica is losing its icy covering at an unprecedented pace, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Antarctica's glaciers may have melted at a rate of 40 billion tons per year in the 1980s, but that total increased more than six-fold from 2009 to 2019. In the National Academy's most recent measurement, Antarctica's ice sheet lost 250 billion tons of ice every year. It takes 360 billion tons of melting ice to produce a millimeter of sea level rise, so sea levels have gone up by nearly 7 millimeters due to Antarctica's melt alone. At the world's current carbon emissions rate, global sea levels could rise 3 feet by 2100. [The Washington Post]