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 Thursday night, lawyers for Christine Blasey Ford spoke to Senate Judiciary Committee staffers as they continue to try to come to an agreement on Ford testifying before the committee, Politico reports.
Ford has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) scheduled a hearing on the matter for Monday, inviting Ford and Kavanaugh to appear. Kavanaugh formally accepted the invitation on Thursday. Ford's attorneys had requested an FBI investigation before the hearing, and earlier on Thursday said their client is willing to testify, but not on Monday.
During Thursday night's call, they discussed possible scenarios for an appearance, two people familiar with the matter told Politico, including holding the hearing next Thursday. It was a "positive" phone call, one person told Politico, with Ford's lawyers also letting the staffers for Grassley and ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) know that Ford wants Kavanaugh to testify at the hearing first; does not want to be questioned by outside counsel; would like just one camera in the room during the hearing; and would like witnesses to be called. A spokesperson for Grassley said he is now consulting with colleagues on how to move forward. Catherine Garcia
Colin Kaepernick will receive the W.E.B. Du Bois medal from Harvard, the university's highest honor in African and African American studies, this October.
Harvard's Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies announced this year's recipients of the award, given to people "in recognition of their contributions to African and African American culture and the life of the mind," on Thursday. A total of eight people are receiving the medal this year, including comedian Dave Chapelle and artist Kehinde Wiley, who painted former President Barack Obama's official portrait.
Previous winners of the medal, named in honor of the NAACP founder and first African American to earn a Harvard doctorate, include Maya Angelou and Muhammad Ali. Kaepernick started a national conversation in 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem ahead of football games. A free agent who is not playing on any team, he's now the face of the latest Nike campaign, appearing in ads with the words, "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." Catherine Garcia
Marion "Suge" Knight, the former rap mogul who founded Death Row Records in the 1990s, pleaded no contest on Thursday to a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Knight was accused of running over one man and hitting another with his truck in a Compton, California, parking lot in 2015. Terry Carter, 55, was killed, and Cle "Bone" Sloan sustained serious injuries. The incident took place near where the movie Straight Outta Compton was being filmed, and was caught on surveillance tape. Sloan was working security for the film set, and Knight claimed he was speeding away because Sloan had a gun.
Knight will be sentenced Oct. 4, and is expected to receive 28 years in prison, ABC Los Angeles reports. Under the plea deal, the judge will dismiss additional charges against Knight during his sentencing: making criminal threats and stealing a camera. Catherine Garcia
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sent Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) a letter Thursday accepting his invitation to attend a hearing on Monday regarding a sexual assault accusation made against Kavanaugh.
"From the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it," Kavanaugh wrote in the letter. "I remain committed to defending my integrity." He also said he wanted the hearing to take place as soon as possible so "that I can clear my name."
Christine Blasey Ford, a professor living in California, accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both teenagers. Grassley announced the hearing on Monday, before Ford and Kavanaugh agreed to attend, and Ford's lawyers have been negotiating with the committee on whether she will appear. Her lawyer said Thursday that it's "not possible" for Ford to testify in front of the panel on Monday, and "the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary." That being said, if senators agree to "terms that are fair," Ford "would be prepared to testify next week." Ford had requested an FBI investigation before testifying. Catherine Garcia
At least 44 people were killed Thursday when a passenger ferry capsized in Lake Victoria, officials said.
There were hundreds of people on the ferry, with local media reporting it was overloaded and likely had between 400 and 500 passengers. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.
Officials said 37 people have been pulled from the water, but because of poor visibility, it's too hard to conduct a thorough search, and rescue efforts will resume in the morning. Catherine Garcia
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Thursday signed a law that bans restaurant servers from automatically giving customers single-use plastic straws.
Straws will still be available upon request, and the law does not apply to fast food establishments. Brown said plastic trash is a major threat to marine life, and the California Coastal Commission has found that plastic straws and stirrers are among the most common pieces of trash found on state beaches. "Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences," Brown said in a statement. "Plastic, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking the planet."
Restaurants that do not abide by the law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2019, will get two warnings, and then a fine of $25 per day, up to $300 a year. California is the first state to enact such a law. Catherine Garcia
It turns out that an octopus on ecstasy doesn't act all that different than a human on ecstasy.
Scientists who for some reason felt compelled to dunk octopuses into an MDMA solution found that they became more sociable and relaxed, The Atlantic reported Thursday. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine neuroscientists were surprised to find that the usually solitary and often surly creatures were suddenly interested in befriending their tank-mates and behaving more vulnerably.
Octopuses are extremely intelligent, but their brains are structured differently than those of mammals, neuroscientist Gül Dölen told The Atlantic. Their sophisticated brains are organized "much more like a snail's brain than ours," she said. While the octopuses in the trial were at first independent, a quick bath in an MDMA solution to allow them to absorb the drug through their gills made them willing to interact with one another. The serotonin-releasing amphetamine seemed to cause euphoria just like it does in humans. "They even exposed their [underside], where their mouth is, which is not something octopuses usually do," said Dölen.
The study is just a pilot, but it's still one of the first to show similar drug effects on such dissimilar brains. It provides evidence that serotonin has been an important chemical for social function for millions of years, stretching back to the most recent common ancestor of humans and octopuses, around 800 million years ago. As neuroscientist Robyn Crook told The Atlantic: "There are only so many ways to make an intelligent brain." Summer Meza