Trump and Pelosi dig in on wall as border security talks begin
President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hardened their positions on Trump's demand for a border wall on Thursday, with just two weeks to go before a deadline that could result in another partial government shutdown. "There's not going to be any wall money in the legislation," Pelosi said as congressional Democrats presented their opening offer toward a border security deal. As negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on a special committee got underway on Capitol Hill, Trump said at the White House that he didn't expect much from the committee. "If they don't give us a wall, it doesn't work," Trump said. Pelosi said Democrats could accept some metal "Normandy fencing" that was previously approved to stop vehicles but not people. "He can call that a wall," Pelosi said.
Booker announces presidential bid
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced Friday that he is running for the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge President Trump in 2020, joining an increasingly crowded field. Booker, 49, said in a tweet and a video sent to supporters that he would try to unify the country so people would "feel pride, not shame" in their leadership, singling out the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their migrant parents at the border. He called for a country "where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins," and said, "I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind; where parents can put food on the table; where there are good-paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood." [Bloomberg News]
Senate Republicans rebuke Trump over military drawdown in Syria, Afghanistan
An overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans voted to declare that the Islamic State's ongoing operations in Syria and Afghanistan pose a significant threat to the U.S. The 68-to-23 vote amounted to a stinging bipartisan rebuke of President Trump's rationale for ordering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, and the reduction of American forces in Afghanistan. When he announced the moves last month, Trump declared on Twitter: "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency." The Senate vote, pushed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), came as U.S. and Taliban negotiators make progress toward a peace deal. [The Washington Post]
Polar vortex toll climbs as temperatures set to rebound
The historic freeze that has slammed the Midwest this week was blamed for more deaths on Thursday, with the toll rising to 13 people. About 2,000 more airline flights were canceled on Thursday, even as life started to return to normal with some schools and businesses reopening, and train travel resuming. Meanwhile, the extreme cold moved into the Northeast, with parts of western New York getting 20 inches of snow. A rapid temperature rebound was coming to hard-hit areas. For example, Moline, Illinois, saw a temperature of minus 33 degrees Thursday but will vault to 49 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday. [The Associated Press]
Trump says intelligence chiefs misquoted when contradicting him on live TV
President Trump said Thursday that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel both told him that the testimony they gave in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, which contradicted him, was "misquoted" and "totally taken out of context." Their testimony was broadcast live on television, and their written assessment of global threats was later made public. The intelligence chiefs made several statements at odds with the White House, including saying Iran is not trying to build a nuclear bomb and North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons program. When asked about the disconnect, Trump responded: "They said they were totally misquoted and totally taken out of context. They said it was fake news." [CNN]
Reports: Trump Jr. mystery calls before Russia meeting were to friends, not father
Senate investigators have found evidence that Donald Trump Jr.'s mysterious phone calls before his 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton were with business associates, not his father, CNN and ABC News reported Thursday, citing unnamed sources. The calls to blocked numbers reportedly were between Trump Jr.'s cellphone and those of two family friends — NASCAR CEO Brian France and real estate developer Howard Lorber, both of whom actively supported President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The president responded to the reports, tweeting: "The big deal, very mysterious Don Jr. telephone calls, after the innocent Trump Tower meeting, that the media & Dems said were made to his father (me), were just conclusively found NOT to be made to me." [CNN, ABC News]
Border agents make biggest fentanyl seizure in history
Federal border agents on Thursday made the largest seizure of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in U.S. history. A drug-sniffing dog helped Customs and Border Protection officers find the 254 pounds of the drug — enough to kill 57 million people — in a floor compartment of a tractor-trailer truck loaded with cucumbers and trying to cross a border checkpoint in Nogales, Arizona. That was twice as big as the previous record seizure of fentanyl, which is blamed for the majority of U.S. overdose deaths; that shipment was found in a truck in Nebraska. Agents also found 395 pounds of methamphetamine. The fentanyl had a value of $3.5 million; the meth was worth $1.1 million. [NBC News]
U.S. to withdraw from milestone nuclear disarmament treaty
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to announce Friday that the Trump administration is suspending the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a pact with Russia that has been a centerpiece of European security since the Cold War. In remarks scheduled for Friday morning, Pompeo reportedly plans to accuse Russia of violating the Reagan-era treaty with a missile it has deployed near European borders. The two sides failed to resolve their differences on the issue in recent discussions. Pompeo and his deputies have called on Moscow to destroy the missile; Russia has said it's the U.S. that has violated the treaty with antiballistic missile systems deployed in Europe.
Twitter removes troll accounts it says tried to influence 2018 midterms
Twitter identified and removed troll accounts from five countries trying to manipulate the 2018 midterms, the company revealed Thursday. Thousands of Twitter accounts from countries including Russia, Iran, and Venezuela were reportedly found to be copying Russia's 2016 interference tactics. Many of these accounts were backed by foreign governments and either spread disinformation or inflamed political discourse. The accounts used the same tactics as the Internet Research Agency, a Moscow-backed group indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller — 418 accounts came from Russia, 764 troll accounts from Venezuela were using IRA techniques, and another 6,000 U.S.-based posts with misinformation were deleted. Separately, Facebook removed 783 pages, groups, and accounts that were "engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran." [NBC News]
3 arrested in crackdown on 'birth tourism'
U.S. prosecutors on Thursday arrested three people in connection with alleged "birth tourism" businesses that offered pregnant Chinese women help traveling to the U.S. to give birth, so their babies would be American citizens. More than a dozen others were charged but were believed to have returned to China. Authorities said that over two years Dongyuan Li's business, called "You Win USA," charged pregnant women $40,000 to $80,000 each to come to California, stay in an upscale apartment, and give birth. The others arrested were Jing Dong, 42, and Michael Wei Yueh Liu, 53, who allegedly operated "USA Happy Baby." The businesses, which were raided in 2015, allegedly coached the women to hide their pregnancies and lie about their plans to give birth in the U.S. [NBC News, The New York Times]