Republicans don't seem eager to go to the mat to finance President Trump's border wall with Mexico, at least in the stopgap spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown. Still, on Tuesday, the White House sent Congress a request for an immediate cut of $18 billion from domestic programs to pay for the wall, The Associated Press reports, citing a Capitol Hill aide who described the unreleased documents.
The requested cuts reportedly include $1.2 billion from National Institutes of Health medical grants, $1.5 billion from community development grants, $500 million from a transportation grant program, $434 million to eliminate a program to encourage community service among senior citizens, and $372 million from heating subsidies for the poor.
As with Trump's 2018 budget plan, Congress will probably ignore Trump's requests, though building the wall is a high priority for Trump and the White House hasn't yet joined the 2017 spending negotiations. Democrats pounced anyway. "The administration is asking the American taxpayer to cover the cost of a wall — unneeded, ineffective, absurdly expensive — that Mexico was supposed to pay for, and he is cutting programs vital to the middle class to get that done," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). "Build the wall or repair or build a bridge or tunnel or road in your community? What's the choice?"
How much the wall would cost is an open question. Republicans estimate a price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion, a Homeland Security Department report put the cost at $21.6 billion, and on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested the final number could hit $66.9 billion. McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she based her estimate on a briefing for committee staff in which the administration explained that its 2018 budget request of $2.6 billion for the wall would go toward constructing 75 miles of new wall. She did the math for the 1,827 viable miles of border, conceding that this wasn't a perfect way to get an accurate estimate.
"It is concerning that the cost of construction could also be significantly higher, as the cost of acquiring land currently owned by private individuals was not included in the estimate," McCaskill wrote to the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border protection. "Regardless, the $36.6 million per mile figure is the only information, and the closest to a cost estimate that the Committee has obtained from DHS." Peter Weber
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters asking about the state of the North American Free Trade Agreement that it is "not yet" dead.
Trump's final decision on NAFTA has been widely anticipated. Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Trump at the White House and called for maintaining a "fairer" agreement that would "produce better outcomes" for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, characterized the Trump administration's proposals as "turn[ing] back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness, and collaboration under NAFTA."
Trump has remained less than forthcoming about his intentions. "We'll see what happens," Trump said in the Oval Office when asked if NAFTA was dead. "We have a tough negotiation, and it's something you will know in the not too distant future." Jeva Lange
Drones may soon be responsible for some of the news coverage you watch on TV.
CNN worked with Vantage Robotics for over two years to create its drone, researching and testing various devices. The network's final model, called a Snap, can fly up to 150 feet, weighs only 1.37 pounds, and contains enclosed rotors for maximum security while flying over people. Previous exemptions have limited drone usage to tethered filming up to only 21 feet in the air.
CNN has been leading the pack in developing drones for news coverage. Earlier this year, the FAA approved CNN's use of a drone for filming on a closed set motion picture. The waiver is a major step forward for news organizations looking to use the devices to safely capture footage of protests or dangerous areas. Elianna Spitzer
King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, announced Wednesday the formation of a religious authority of Islamic scholars from around the world that would vet the use of "hadiths" — the accounts of the life, doings, and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
Hadiths are used by preachers, scholars, and Islamic jurists to teach different interpretations of Islam. Terrorist groups like the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Taliban have all used different hadiths to justify their own ideologies and actions, as there are thousands of version. Saudi Arabia's Culture and Information Ministry said Wednesday that the establishment of this religious authority would "eliminate fake and extremist texts and any texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders, and terrorist acts."
Saudi Arabia has long subsidized the international exportation of madrassas, or Islamic religious schools, that teach Wahhabism, a rigid and puritanical Sunni interpretation of Islam. In a leaked email from 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to Saudi donors as "the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." In September, Saudi authorities arrested more than 20 clerics and intellectuals for their connections to "external entities, including the Muslim Brotherhood."
It is estimated that approximately 10 to 15 percent of Saudi Arabia's population practices Shia Islam, a branch of the religion that expressly contradicts many of the beliefs of Sunni Islam. Shiites in Saudi Arabia have long been targets of harassment and discrimination; in August, Saudi Arabia drew fierce criticism from the U.S. and Europe when it executed 14 Shiites who had been arrested for demonstrating in 2011 and 2012. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Al Franken tussle over Sessions' shifting about his meetings with Russian agents
Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to discuss his conversations with President Trump at his Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing Wednesday, citing executive privilege and frustrating Democrats. "I can neither assert executive privilege nor can I disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president," Sessions said. Democrats have maintained that because Trump did not invoke the privilege himself, the attorney general is not required to adhere to it, The New York Times reports.
Sessions faced intense pressure from senators including Vermont's Patrick Leahy (D), who forced him to admit he has not yet been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation, and Minnesota's Al Franken (D), who challenged Sessions for "moving the goal posts" regarding his conversations with Russian agents during the presidential campaign.
"Not being able to recall what you discussed with him is very different than saying, 'I have not had communications with the Russians,'" Franken challenged Sessions over the attorney general's inconsistent answers on what exactly happened. "The ambassador from Russia is Russian." Jeva Lange
Even the least cuddly of cats at this Philadelphia shelter can find a home.
While they won't become a little kid's birthday present, unadoptable felines at Philadelphia's Animal Care and Control Team get a job chasing mice at a barn or even a brewery through the shelter's "Working Cats" program, The Associated Press reported.
ACCT started the program four years ago, and it's been a win-win ever since: Not-so-friendly cats get a home, and local businesses get rid of mice. The Working Cats program realizes that not all cats make perfect pets, and cats who'd rather scratch than snuggle get to use their natural hunting abilities to help humans.
As a bonus, when given an outlet for their energy, some of these cats have grown to love people and did become cuddly mascots at their new homes.
In March, City of Miami Police Lt. Javier Ortiz was stripped of his gun, temporarily suspended, and forced to do desk work after a county judge granted a restraining order against him by a woman he'd harassed on Facebook. Over the last few years, Ortiz had also posted racially inflammatory content on social media, allegedly written improper police reports, and received several use-of-force lawsuits.
Although Ortiz is the head of Miami's police union, he has been accused of racism by the the city's oldest black police organization, the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, and he is deeply unpopular even within the union he helms. A quick Google search on "Javier Ortiz Miami" yields almost exclusively bad press, which is a point of contention for officers who have anonymously complained to local media about the reputation Ortiz creates for the Miami Police Department.
Miami police chief Rodolfo Llanes, who technically retired in 2016 but still collects both a salary and pension, did not respond to a message from the Miami New Times asking about Ortiz's promotion. Kelly O'Meara Morales
This Trump Golf club claimed it's given $5 million to charity. NPR can only track down $800,000 of it.
The Trump National Golf Club Los Angeles used to claim it had contributed $5 million to charity. Then NPR started asking questions.
Just a few months ago, a philanthropy page on the Southern California club's website listed about 200 nonprofit groups, saying it had given them a total of about $5 million. Now, that page has been stripped of all those claims.
The redaction came soon after NPR started questioning the club's charitable giving. So far, NPR has only been able account for $800,000 of the supposed $5 million in donations, and 17 of the listed charities had no record of contributions from the club at all.
A producer from NPR's Embedded podcast discussed the team's findings on Wednesday's Morning Edition program:
The Embedded team cross-referenced the list on the golf club's website with a publicly available list the Trump campaign put out detailing donations it had made over the years. Several organizations on the website weren't on the campaign's list, and upon calling these organizations, NPR found they had no record of Trump National donations on the books.