The U.S. at a glance ...
Iowa Falls, Iowa
Rowdy town halls: Heading back to their home districts for the Presidents’ Day recess, Republican lawmakers were greeted this week by raucous crowds at a series of heated town hall events, as angry constituents voiced their displeasure at the GOP’s policy agenda. While up to 200 congressional Republicans skipped the traditional recess events, others chose to face hostile audiences, including Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who was berated for the GOP’s bid to repeal Obamacare. At one point, a pig farmer handed Grassley a bottle of Tums, telling the senator, “You’re going to need them in the next few years.” In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was met by hundreds of protesters, while in upstate New York, Rep. Tom Reed faced shouts of “Russia, Russia, Russia” by constituents who demanded an investigation into that country’s alleged ties to President Trump. In a tweet, Trump dismissed the protests as “planned out by liberal activists.”
Uber harassment scandal: Uber has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to head the company’s “urgent” investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination, laid out this week in a shocking blog by a former female employee. In the viral post, titled “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” former engineer Susan Fowler describes the ride-sharing app company as “an organization in complete, unrelenting chaos.” Fowler said that she was propositioned for sex by her manager on her first day on the job, and that when she went to HR with her complaint, she was told the man in question wouldn’t be punished because it was his first offense—only to find out from other female engineers that they, too, had complained about his behavior. Fowler also said she was repeatedly blocked from career advancement. Board member Arianna Huffington will also assist Holder with the investigation.
Blind sheikh dies: Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh” convicted of plotting a wave of terrorist attacks in the U.S., died in a North Carolina prison last week. The 78-year-old was serving a life sentence at the Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, and was best known for his involvement in the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Abdel-Rahman was not convicted in the attack, which claimed six lives, but several followers from the cleric’s New Jersey and Brooklyn mosques served sentences for the bombing. He was later convicted of plotting a “day of terror” that would have resulted in simultaneous bomb attacks at the United Nations, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York City, the George Washington Bridge, and New York’s FBI headquarters. Abdel-Rahman also inspired fundamentalist movements in his native Egypt before fleeing to the U.S. in 1990.
Dr. Death’ convicted: A Dallas jury sentenced a neurosurgeon to life in prison this week for deliberately botching a series of spinal surgeries—the first time a surgeon has ever been given a prison sentence for bungling procedures. Christopher Duntsch, 46, earned the nickname “Dr. Death” when he was arrested in 2015 on multiple aggravatedassault charges involving 32 operations from 2012 and 2013. Four patients were left crippled by Duntsch; two others died. Among those testifying in the trial was Mary Efurd, 79, who lost a third of her blood and the full use of her legs during back surgery. A doctor who treated Efurd afterward said Duntsch had “done virtually everything wrong”—including placing implants in muscle instead of bone and amputating a nerve root. Prosecutors said Duntsch made the errors deliberately, and produced evidence he once wrote of his plans “to become a cold-blooded killer.” Duntsch said he made the mistakes because of his chaotic workload.
Albuquerque; Birmingham, Ala.; Buffalo; Chicago; Cleveland; Houston; Milwaukee; Nashville; St. Paul, Minn.; Tampa
Wave of anti-Semitic incidents: President Donald Trump denounced anti-Semitism as “horrible” this week amid mounting pressure to speak out on the issue, following a number of bomb threats against Jewish community centers nationwide and an attack at a Jewish cemetery in Missouri. More than 170 Jewish graves were found toppled at the historic St. Louis–area cemetery over the weekend. Days later, at least 10 Jewish community centers in cities such as Albuquerque, Chicago, and Houston received bomb threats. After several Jewish organizations accused the Trump administration of failing to distance itself from the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some of its supporters, the president said anti-Semitism was “horrible, and it’s going to stop.” The Anne Frank Center said Trump’s remarks were “too little, too late.”
Pruitt confirmed: One of the Environmental Protection Agency’s longtime adversaries, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, was confirmed as the agency’s new head last week—marking the start of the Trump administration’s starkly different environmental agenda. A climate change skeptic, Pruitt sued the EPA at least 14 times as Oklahoma’s attorney general, accusing the Obama administration of “unwarranted regulation and systematic overreach.” The night before the confirmation vote, an Oklahoma judge ordered Pruitt to release thousands of emails that showed close cooperation between his office and fossil fuel companies, with Pruitt even adopting lobbyists’ exact language. But before the emails were made public, Republican senators approved Pruitt by a vote of 52 to 46. Laying out his vision on his first day in the job, Pruitt told EPA workers the agency should be “both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment.”