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Al Franken rips Trump, GOP in final Senate speech

At noon Thursday, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) addressed the Senate for the last time, giving a half-hour resignation speech that touched on everything from voter fraud to climate change but held an overarching message — that the Trump administration is chipping away at the pillars supporting American democracy.

>> Read more trending news

Over the past few weeks, there has been speculation that Franken might walk back his promise to resign, since he made his initial resignation speech in early December. But in Wednesday’s remarks, the Minnesota lawmaker made it clear that he is indeed packing his bags in Washington and used his final opportunity to outline what he at one point called the “callous and mean-spirited” decisions of the White House.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a dedicated, hard-working staff both in Washington and Minnesota and I have no doubt that they will go on to do great things and serve our nation well” Franken said.

He then turned his focus to everyday Americans saying, “when most people think about politics, they think about arguments … and that’s a big reason why people don’t like politics.

“But since I’m leaving the Senate, I thought I would take a big risk and say a few words in favor of arguments.”

The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member began laying into the Trump administration, and the Republicans’ most recent accomplishment, saying “the values propelling the Republican agenda today are about consolidating political and economic power in the hands of corporations and the very wealthy.” He continued, “Just take the tax bill that Congress passed this week … crafting an enormous giveaway that benefits their wealthy campaign donors … by 2027, 83 percent of the benefits in the Republican tax bill will accrue to the top 1 percent of income earners, that’s people who make more than $912,000 a year — do we really need any other data point?”

He then accused the president of neglecting the “forgotten men and women” that Trump promised to serve in his inaugural address. He also blasted the administration’s efforts to defeat Obamacare, saying “despite (Trump’s) campaign promise that ‘we’re going to have health insurance for everybody’ when his administration attempted to deliver on that promise, Republicans devised and passed a bill that would have resulted in 23 million fewer people having health insurance.”

Franken was harshly critical of the GOP’s stance on climate change, saying “rather than join me and my Democratic colleagues by confronting the challenge of climate change, Republicans have ordered a retreat at the behest of the fossil fuel industry and other private interests.” 

“The president and its allies in Congress have never let science or common sense stand in the way of ideology,” Franken said.

He pointed to an October announcement when the Trump administration tried to pull birth control from health insurance coverage, saying “ensuring that women have access to contraception is vital to the economic security of our families … despite the millions of women who have benefited from the police and despite the science … the Trump administration has eviscerated the policy.”

Franken spent a good portion of his speech attacking Trump’s argument that he won the popular vote, saying “let’s be clear, President Trump lost the popular vote … citing no evidence … no state reported any indication of widespread [voter] fraud. But that didn’t stop the Trump administration from quickly turning the president’s tweets into policy. The White House created a new commission … led by Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach, a right-wing extremist who has made a career of trafficking in the voter fraud myth.”

The senator closed by saying “politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. The American people know that to be true and they fill me with hope for our future.” Franken has set the official date for his resignation as Jan. 2.

Photojournalist, 5 others acquitted in inauguration riot trial

Texas photojournalist Alexei Wood and five others were acquitted of all charges Thursday in a closely-watched trial of protesters accused of rioting, conspiracy and destroying property on Inauguration Day.

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The case was, to many observers, a test of the First Amendment, especially for Wood, who livestreamed the protest and march through 16 city blocks and even taped himself being pepper-sprayed and then arrested.

“There was just elation at the defense table,” said Brett Cohen, Wood’s court-appointed attorney. “I had delight in Wood’s reaction; it made me really happy. I think it’s a valid verdict. My client had no intent to riot.”

The trial began Nov. 15 with the jury beginning deliberations last Friday.

Wood and the other defendants had been facing as many as 50 years in prison.

“(Expletive) them so hard. And you can quote me,” Wood told the American-Statesman.

The District of Columbia jury rejected the prosecution’s argument that the actions of a few breaking windows and destroying property made other protesters nearby complicit as they “re-absorbed” the lawbreakers as part of a large protest of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed,” said spokesman Bill Miller. “This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby. … We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.”

There are nearly 200 more defendants in the case — including another Texas native, journalist Aaron Cantu — scheduled for trials over the next year.

Most of the protesters wore black and covered their faces although Wood, who can be seen in his video, did not. However, prosecutors highlighted Wood’s commentary during the video, which seemed to be shouts of approval and which the government said amounted to encouraging the destruction of property.

Cohen said that when he and other attorneys spoke with the jury privately after the verdicts were announced, several jurors said Wood’s case was the toughest for them to decide.

“It was a tough case and I am thrilled for Alexei who had no intent to commit any crimes,” said Cohen.

Wood lives in San Antonio but packed up his belongings and has been staying in Washington to be in the courtroom during the trial.

UN votes to condemn US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

The U.N. General Assembly voted in favor Thursday of a resolution that implicitly condemned President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite the president's threats to cut funding to countries that oppose his decision.

>> Read more trending news 

>> Related: President Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Trump calls for infrastructure investment after deadly Washington train derailment

President Donald Trump called for increased infrastructure spending following a deadly Amtrak train derailment Monday morning near Seattle.

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Amtrak Cascades Train 501 was traveling between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, when it derailed around 7:45 a.m. Monday on an Interstate 5 overpass near DuPont, Washington. At least three people died and more than 70 others were injured.

>> Related: Eagle Scout climbs into trains, helps passengers in train derailment

“The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, WA shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly,” Trump said Monday morning in a tweet. “Seven trillion dollars spent in the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways (and more) crumble! Not for long!”

Trump is expected to release a framework for increased infrastructure spending in January, relying on a mix of federal, local and private spending.

The tweet was one of three messages sent Monday by Trump about the train derailment.

“My thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the train accident in DuPont, Washington,” Trump wrote in a subsequent tweet. “Thank you to all of our wonderful First Responders who are on the scene. We are currently monitoring here at the White House.”

Officials continue to investigate the cause of Monday’s derailment.

The Associated Press and the Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

Sen. John McCain will miss tax bill vote

Sen. John McCain will not be in Washington when Congress votes on the Republican tax bill this week, CNN reported Sunday.

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The Arizona Republican returned to his home state Sunday to continue recovering from the side effects of chemotherapy for a brain tumor, two sources confirmed to CNN. The senator’s daughter, Meghan McCain, confirmed in a tweet that her father would be in Arizona for Christmas.

“Thank you to everyone for their kind words. My father is doing well and we are all looking forward to spending Christmas together in Arizona,” she tweeted Sunday afternoon.

McCain, 81, is unlikely to return to Washington this year, one of the sources told CNN. The senator left Walter Reed Medical Center “exhausted, but OK,” a Republican close to him said.

Dr. Mark Gilbert, chief of neuro-oncology at the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute, released a statement Sunday saying McCain “continues to improve” after being treated for a viral infection. He added the senator is also responding positively to his ongoing cancer treatment.

McCain's office released a statement Sunday night: "Senator McCain has returned to Arizona and will undergo physical therapy and rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic. He is grateful for the excellent care he continues to receive, and appreciates the outpouring of support from people all over the country. He looks forward to returning to Washington in January."

McCain was admitted into the hospital on Wednesday after missing a third straight day of votes in the Senate. 

The final vote on the Republican tax bill is expected to take place early this week.

The passage of the tax bill, however, does not hinge on McCain's support because the GOP has a 52-48 vote advantage in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence can also cast a tie-breaking vote, should it be needed.

Report: CDC given list of 'forbidden' words for budget

The Trump administration has issued a list of seven words and phrases that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are "forbidden" from using in documents related to next year's budget, The Washington Post reported Friday.The list of banned words includes: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based, according to The Washington Post report. In certain cases, alternative phrasing was offered. CDC employees were encouraged to use the phrase, “the CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes," in place of “science-based” or “evidence-based” according to a source cited in The Washington Post report.

 >> Read more trending news 

It is not clear why the Trump administration issued such a directive, but The Washington Post notes that other federal agencies, like Health and Human Services, have altered language addressing sexual orientation in its documentation since Trump took office.The directive was met with an "incredulous" reaction when it was announced at a meeting Thursday with CDC employees, The Washington Post reported.

The White House has not released a response to The Washington Post report.

Female Democrat pulls out of House race amid sexual misconduct accusations

Andrea Ramsey, a Kansas Democrat running for a House seat in 2018, has dropped out of the race amid sexual misconduct accusations, according to the Kansas City Star.

>> Read more trending news

The retired businesswoman — who was considered one of the Democratic Party’s brightest political prospects — was hoping to challenge Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas’ 3rd District in the 2018 midterm elections.

The Star reported on a 2005 lawsuit filed against LabOne, the company at which Ramsey worked as an executive vice president of human resources. One of Ramsey’s male subordinates, a man named Gary Funkhouser, alleged that she sexually harassed him and retaliated when he rejected her advances. Funkhouser claims Ramsey made “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual comments and innuendos” in September 2004 while he was a human resources manager. He also alleges that she made advances on a business trip in March 2005.

Funkhouser was fired by Ramsey in April of the same year.

Sources claim that the case was settled out-of-court and the alleged victim agreed to permanently dismiss the case.

In the statement in which she announced she was dropping out of the race, Ramsey strongly denied the allegations.

“My opponents have chosen to use these false allegations against me for political purposes, not only engaging in a whisper campaign, but also contacting political and news organizations,” Ramsey said. “These false allegations are disgraceful and demean the moment this country is in. For far too long, complaints of sexual harassment have been completely ignored. The timely and thorough investigation of complaints is a very good thing. We are seeing real change in how harassment is being handled from Topeka to Washington. We should always make it as safe as possible for people who have been wronged to come forward, and I have based my professional career as an employment lawyer and human resources executive on that principle.”

Ramsey also said that after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated the allegations, they chose not to pursue them and and Funkhouser eventually dismissed the lawsuit voluntarily.

“In its rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero-tolerance standard,” Ramsey said in her statement.

“For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee’s false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment where rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance and due process.”

The DCCC, which is yet to endorse any of the candidates in the Democratic primary, released a statement about the accusations made against Ramsey.

“Members and candidates must all be held to the highest standard. If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, that person should not hold public office,” committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said.

House Ethics Committee probe launched after Kihuen accused of sexual harassment

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into sexual harassment allegations levied against Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada.

>> Read more trending news

The announcement came after a pair of women accused the congressman Kihuen was sworn into office in January. Before representing Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, Kihuen served in the Nevada Senate.

A woman, who was not identified for fear of retribution, told The Nevada Independent on Thursday that she was working as a lobbyist when Kihuen was a state senator and that he “touched her thighs or buttocks on three separate occasions without her consent.”

She showed the newspaper a slew of suggestive text messages she said were sent to her by Kihuen during the 2015 legislative session, including one asking that she “come sit on his lap in the middle of a committee meeting,” the Independent reported.

She said she had previously dealt with a slew of inappropriate Facebook messages from Kihuen, all sent during the 2013 legislative session.

“I don’t think Ruben thinks what he did was wrong,” she told the Independent. “Like, I think he just thought he was playing around, which, I don’t think he realized the position he probably put people in.”

In a statement obtained by the Independent, Kihuen pointed to his 10 years in the state Legislature, during which time he “dated several different women,” he said.

“Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t discuss my communications or any other details of those relationship,” he said.

Earlier this month, a woman told BuzzFeed News that she quit her job as a finance director for Kihuen’s 2016 congressional campaign after he made repeated sexual advances toward her.

The woman, identified only by the name Samantha, told the news site she began working for Kihuen in December 2015. She said ongoing sexual harassment led her to quit by April 2016. 

Twice, she said, he touched her thighs without her consent. She told Buzzfeed that Kihuen once touched her thigh while they were in a car together and after he asked if she had ever cheated on her boyfriend.

“She told him to stop, and said she said ‘no,’ and began talking about her boyfriend,” the news site reported.

In a separate incident in March, Samantha told BuzzFeed that Kihuen grabbed the back of her thigh in March 2016 as she was trying to help him with his computer while he was making fundraising calls.

“I asked him what he was doing and he stopped,” she said.

Democratic Party leaders have called on Kihuen to step down in the wake of the accusations. 

“In Congress, no one should face sexual harassment in order to work in an office or in a campaign,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Dec. 2, after Samantha came forward. “The young woman’s documented account is convincing, and I commend her for the courage it took to come forward. In light of these upsetting allegations, congressman Kihuen should resign.”

Kihuen said last week that he has no intention to resign in light of the allegations, according to CNN.

“I’m definitely not resigning,” he said on Dec. 6. “That’s all I can tell you for now.”

Net neutrality vote: FCC OKs repeal of Obama-era rules

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules meant to stop broadband companies from exercising more control over what people watch and see on the internet.

>> Read more trending news

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who put forth the planned repeal and voted in favor of it Thursday, said it “certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation” that made the internet the “greatest free-market innovation in history.” 

>> Related: State attorneys general ask FCC to delay net neutrality vote

“Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence,” he said.

Blake Farenthold won't seek re-election amid harassment claims

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold announced he won’t seek re-election, less than a week after a House committee opened an investigation into sexual harassment claims from a former aide.

>> Read more trending news

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