On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on legislation to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act, part of a push by Republicans to roll back environmental regulations and protections. The Republicans on the committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and three of the five witnesses at the hearing argued that the 1973 law to keep animal species from extinction impedes oil drilling, mining, and farming, and infringes on the rights of states and private landowners. The proposed legislation would make it harder to list animals on the endangered species list and limit legal action under the 1973 law, among other changes.
Barrassso painted the bill as a way to cut "red tape," while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the Endangered Species Act makes it too hard to take animals off the list, arguing that only 50 of the 1,600 species listed as endangered or threatened have been removed. Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the conservation nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, testified that the Obama administration removed 29 species from the endangered list in eight years, in a sign that the law is working. "For more than 40 years, the ESA has been successful, bringing the bald eagle, the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon, and numerous other species back from the brink of extinction," she said. "Based on data from the (Fish and Wildlife Service), the ESA has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction."
There's a parallel push to scale back the Endangered Species Act in the House — House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wants to repeal it entirely, arguing that "it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species" but instead has "been used to control the land." On Wednesday night's Full Frontal, Samantha Bee was puzzled at the constituency for killing the Endangered Species Act. "The vast majority of Americans support wildlife protection," she said, citing a Defenders of Wildlife poll showing 84 percent support for the law (an American Farm Bureau Federation poll was more nuanced.) "'Animals are awesome' is the only safe topic of conversation most American families have left. Left-right, old-young, black-white, Americans agree: Four legs, good."
President Trump, who has already delayed adding an endangered bumblebee to the endangered species list, is expected to sign any legislation that comes to his desk. Peter Weber
All five living ex-presidents gathered in College Station, Texas, Saturday evening to appear at a concert raising money for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Republicans George W. and George H.W. Bush and Democrats Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter took the stage together to kick off the event, offering brief remarks praising Americans' unity in the face of adversity.
— xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga) October 22, 2017
President Trump sent in a video message. "This wonderful effort reminds us that we truly are one nation under God, all unified by our values and devotion to one another," he said, thanking the former presidents for their contributions to hurricane relief.
Lady Gaga made a surprise showing, appearing alongside Sam Moore, Yolanda Adams, and others. This was the first time all living former presidents have been together since 2013. Bonnie Kristian
The World Health Organization (WHO) came under intense criticism Saturday for its decision to name Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as the organization's newest goodwill ambassador. The position is mostly symbolic, but the 93-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, is widely considered a dictator, and his government stands accused of gross human rights violations.
"The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong," said Dr. Jeremy Farrar of Wellcome Trust, a prominent British health charity. "Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for."
WHO's Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Mugabe was chosen because his government "places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all," but outside observers say the Zimbabwean health-care system is in "a shambolic state" with hospitals lacking "the most basic necessities." Bonnie Kristian
President Trump is considering further revisions to refugee admission procedures, Reuters reported Friday evening, including a plan to suspend a program that allows refugees to settle with family members already living in the United States. In the new proposal, incoming refugees would be delayed by additional scrutiny before being admitted to rejoin their families.
Also on the table is increased use of security advisory opinions (SAOs) for refugees coming from high-risk countries. SAOs are in-depth security checks that are currently mandatory for male refugees from some countries; the new plan would apply them to women as well. Refugee fingerprinting requirements may be expanded, too.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday announced Madrid will remove Catalan President Carles Puigdemont from his position, suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy, and impose direct national rule to suppress the Catalan independence movement.
This is an unprecedented step under the current Spanish Constitution. Rajoy is invoking the document's Article 155, which says if a region "acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain," the national government can, with majority Senate approval, "take all measures necessary" to stop it.
Catalan Vice President Oriol Junqueras labeled the move "totalitarianism," and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau called it "an attack on everyone's rights and freedoms." Puigdemont led a large protest in Barcelona Saturday afternoon.
In a referendum earlier this month, 90 percent of Catalans who turned out to vote endorsed independence from Spain. The vote was held despite intense opposition from Madrid, including widespread reports of police brutality against would-be voters. Catalan leaders have sought international assistance to negotiate a peaceful resolution, but so far their calls have gone unanswered. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump indicated on Twitter Saturday he will most likely release 3,600 top-secret files about the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy this coming week, with the caveat that new information could lead him to change his mind:
Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017
The Oct. 26 release deadline was set by a 1992 law. Trump can miss that deadline if he certifies that publishing the papers at that time would cause "an identifiable harm to the military defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations [that] outweighs the public interest in disclosure." Members of both houses of Congress from both major parties have sponsored legislation urging Trump to go ahead with publication. Bonnie Kristian
Georgia state Rep. Betty Price (R), who is an anesthesiologist and the wife of former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who resigned last month, asked in a committee hearing Tuesday whether some sort of quarantine of people with HIV might be a viable option for limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Price's comments come as the surgeon general reports a new HIV epidemic could be brewing in places like Georgia.
"If you wouldn't mind commenting on the surveillance of partners, tracking of contacts, that sort of thing — what are we legally able to do?" Dr. Price asked Dr. Pascale Wortley, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Surveillance Section. "I don't want to say the 'quarantine' word, but I guess I just said it," she added, noting that "public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition, so we have a public interest in curtailing the spread."
Wortley replied that Georgia already has a program called "Partner Services that involves talking to people who are newly diagnosed with HIV and asking them to list out partners" so either the patient or a public health worker can contact them. Watch the rest of the exchange below; the relevant section runs from around 1:02:00 to 1:05:30. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump spoke at length about his social media habits in a Friday transcript of a forthcoming interview with Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo. He said his Twitter account is an important way to spread his views, manipulate lawmakers, and keep the public's attention — among other purposes. The interview will air on FBN Sunday and Monday, but in the meantime, read below seven of Trump's most noteworthy Twitter-related comments from the conversation. Bonnie Kristian
1. "Tweeting is like a typewriter — when I put it out, you put it immediately on your show."
2. "You have to keep people interested."
3. "You know what I find; the ones [who] don't want me to [tweet] are the enemies."
4. "I was in a faraway land, and I was tweeting. And I said very little. I said, like, 'I'm in Italy right now,' you know, for the summits. So, 'I'm in Italy right now and the weather is wonderful.' And one of the dishonest networks said, 'Donald Trump is on a Twitter stomp again.'" (See the Italy tweets here.)
5. "When somebody says something about me, I am able to go 'bing, bing, bing' and I take care of it."
6. "I doubt I would be [president] if it weren't for social media, to be honest with you."
7. "[My tweets] are well crafted. I was always good student." [Donald Trump, via FBN]