President Trump has tapped Ken Cuccinelli as the new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
While Cuccinelli's hiring was reported as early as Tuesday, it remained unclear what exactly Cuccinelli's role in the Department of Homeland Security would be. He'll replace the agency's current director, L. Francis Cissna, whom The Washington Post describes as having "deep expertise" when it comes to immigration law, but was forced out following criticism from Trump senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.
Cuccinelli is considered an immigration hardliner and is known for his "combative" television appearances and enthusiastic support for Trump's immigration proposals. He has, however, drawn ire from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reportedly vowed to block Cuccinelli from getting confirmed for any position. McConnell reportedly blames Cuccinelli for promoting insurgent candidates running against sitting Republicans during the 2014 midterm elections. Tim O'Donnell
Over the course of three days in early January, volunteers making their way down the Tennessee River in a 25-foot aluminum boat were able to remove more than 9,000 pounds of trash from the water.
It wasn't the first time the volunteers — staffers from the Johnsonville State Historic Park and members of the group Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful — cleaned the 652-mile river; in October, they pulled out 4,811 pounds of garbage.
Kathleen Gibi, executive director of Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful, said it is up to "local partners and individuals who are eager about taking ownership to protect and improve their beautiful river community."
The Tennessee River has an extraordinarily high amount of microplastics in it, and every cleanup is a step in the right direction. The volunteers are already planning their next event in April, and set a goal to remove at least 100,000 pounds of trash from the river by the end of 2021. Catherine Garcia
Among the first 17 executive orders President Biden signed Wednesday evening was one hitting "pause" on construction of former President Donald Trump's border wall. "It shall be the policy of my administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall," Biden's order said. "I am also directing a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall."
Biden gave the Pentagon and Homeland Security departments up to a week to stop all border construction, and for the most part, the frantic wall-building Trump had unleashed in his last months in office had stopped by Thursday, The Associated Press reports. The Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it told its contractors to stop installing any additional barriers and do only what's "necessary to safely prepare each site for a suspension of work."
Biden gave his administration 60 days to find and review all current contracts and determine which can be canceled, which must be renegotiated, and whether any of the remaining money can be used on other projects. Trump, as of Jan. 15, had spent $6.1 billion of the $10.8 billion in wall construction it had contracted out, a Senate Democratic aide told AP. Overall, the Trump administration had secured $16.45 billion for the wall, including $5.8 billion appropriated by Congress and the rest seized from the Treasury and Defense departments. Biden is targeting that latter pot of money.
Trump says he built 450 miles of his wall, though almost all of that was replacement for other barriers. His administration signed contracts for constructing 664 miles, the Senate aide told AP. "Trump said the border wall would be 'virtually impenetrable' and paid for by Mexico, which never happened," AP notes. "While the wall is much more formidable than the barriers it replaced, it isn't uncommon for smugglers to guide people over or through it. Portions can be sawed with power tools sold at home improvement stores." Peter Weber
To combat rising anti-Semitism, the Austrian government has introduced measures to educate the country about Judaism, protect synagogues, and impose harsher punishments for hate crimes.
Karoline Edstadler, Austria's minister for the European Union, said the government is working to combat anti-Semitism of all forms, whether it is online in a message board comment or announced during a public protest. In 2019, there were 550 recorded anti-Semitic incidents in Austria, Edstadler said, and "that is twice as much as five years ago."
Oskar Deutsch is president of Vienna's Jewish community, and he told The Associated Press when there is discrimination, "Jews are always the first one who are affected." He said it's up to everyone in Austria, not just Jewish people, to fight against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate. Catherine Garcia
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) set off a metal detector on Thursday as he tried to enter the House chamber while carrying a gun, HuffPost reports.
Reporter Matt Fuller witnessed Harris set off the metal detector and then stand as an officer used a wand to scan him. It was then discovered that Harris' suit coat was concealing a firearm. Harris was refused entrance to the Chamber, Fuller reports, and he asked Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) to take the gun so he could go onto the House floor for a vote. Katko responded that he didn't have "a license" and would not take the weapon, Fuller said.
Speaking to other lawmakers near him, Harris complained that he asked his staff to remind him about the metal detectors, and they had failed to do so, Fuller reports. Harris left, and upon his return 10 minutes later, he did not set off the metal detector. A Capitol Police spokesperson told Fuller the situation is under investigation.
The metal detectors were installed after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Several Republican lawmakers have tried to go around the metal detectors to avoid being scanned, and on Thursday, Fuller said he saw Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.), and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) refuse to be wanded down after setting off the metal detectors. Boebert earlier boasted that she will always have her gun on her while in D.C.
Members of the House are not permitted to carry firearms onto the floor, and Fuller tweeted that a person "who would have a good sense of this situation" told him there are "a lot more members than we think who go to the floor armed." Catherine Garcia
Presidents routinely file financial disclosures when they leave office, and forms recently submitted by former President Donald Trump show that 47 of his hotels, resorts, and other properties lost more than $120 million in revenue in 2020, The Washington Post reports.
The pandemic has hit the travel and hospitality industries hard, and two of Trump's most famous hotels struggled last year; the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which has a $170 million loan outstanding, saw its revenue drop more than 60 percent, while the Doral in Miami saw its revenue decline 44 percent. Trump's private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach fared better — its revenue went up 13 percent.
An analysis by the Post found that combined, revenue at the 47 companies listed in Trump's financial disclosures dropped more than 35 percent in 2020. Banking consultant Bery Ely told the Post that Trump "faces some very serious problems that have been building in recent years and I think are going to come to a head now that he's left office." Trump, he added, has done "enormous reputational damage to himself."
While Trump does still own his company, the Post notes, it's unclear if he plans on going back to running day-to-day operations. The Trump Organization's website still lists his eldest sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, as the company's leaders. Read more at The Washington Post.Catherine Garcia
Back in March 2020, No Time to Die became the first major movie to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its release date pushed back seven months to November 2020 before theaters were forced to close their doors throughout the U.S. By the fall, the film was moved again to April 2021, and now, amid a bleak theatrical landscape as COVID-19 cases remain high, No Time to Die is facing its third delay due to the pandemic.
The previous postponement of No Time to Die earlylast year was followed by many more film delays, so experts are bracing for most if not all major movies scheduled for an exclusive theatrical release in the early part of 2021 to adjust those plans, either by moving to a later date or releasing it concurrently on a streaming service. Indeed, the No Time to Die delay on Thursday was quickly followed by Sony announcing that the next Ghostbusters film, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, has also been delayed from June to November.
All eyes now turn to how Disney will handle the Marvel blockbuster Black Widow, which as of now is set to hit theaters in May. It appears the only theatrical movies that are a sure bet to be released in the coming months are those also launching on streaming, as is the case with all of this year's offerings from Warner Bros. Godzilla vs. Kong, for example, will debut both on HBO Max and in those theaters that are able to be open on the same day in March. Brendan Morrow
Seven Senate Democrats filed an ethics complaint against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Thursday, asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate whether they coordinated with leaders of the pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" rally that took place immediately before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
In a letter, the Democrats — Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tim Kaine (Va.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) — said the committee "should also offer recommendations for strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure, if warranted by the facts uncovered."
Prior to the rally and attack on the Capitol, Hawley and Cruz said they would object to the vote counts in several states lost by former President Donald Trump. This "amplified claims of election fraud that had resulted in threats of violence against state and local officials around the country," the letter stated, adding that Hawley and Cruz "touted their plan to challenge the electors to drum up campaign contributions."
The Democrats said the question that must be answered is whether Cruz and Hawley "failed to 'put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or government department' or engaged in 'improper conduct reflecting on the Senate' in connection with the violence on Jan. 6."
Hawley and Cruz have both defended themselves by saying they believed they were protecting the integrity of the election. Catherine Garcia