PHOTO: Trump “worst phone call so far” with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday
A round-up of developments on Day 13 of the Trump Administration:
*Trump got into a heated argument with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during a 25-minute phone call, apparently over an arrangement for the US to take 1,250 refugees who have been held in “deplorable” conditions off the coast of Australia.
Trump said the plan, confirmed under the Obama Administration, was “the worst deal ever”, accusing Australia of trying to export the “next Boston bombers” — a reference to two men from the Russian Caucasus who killed three people and injured hundreds in an attack on the Boston Marathon in 2013. The call was scheduled for an hour, but the President cut it short when Turnbull tried to discuss subjects such as the Syrian crisis.
However, before the call ended, Trump bragged about the size of the crowd at his Inauguration.
Trump told Turnbull that the call was “the worst so far” with foreign leaders. He subsequently tweeted:
Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
*The House of Representatives votes to repeal a Security and Exchanges Commission requirement for energy companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.
The move comes amid a mystery over who obtained a 19.5% stake in the Russian company Rozneft in December.
An intelligence dossier from a private firm, commissioned first by Republican opponents of Donald Trump and then Democrat activists, claims Carter Page — then identified as an advisor to the Trump campaign — discussed the possibility of a 19% stake in Rozneft in July 2016.
*Trump Administration will modify a US Government program against all violent ideologies to focus solely on Islamic individuals and groups.
Five people briefed on the program said “Countering Violent Extremism” will be changed “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism”. It will no longer consider groups such as white supremacists.
*US military blames Trump for ineptitude leading to the deaths of an American SEAL and numerous civilians in a raid in Yemen last weekend.
*The Senate approves Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, by 56-43 — the smallest margin of confirmation for a Secretary of State in US history.
Despite a Democratic boycott of some of the confirmation process, Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions is finally sent by committee to the Senate for approval. However, the Democrats did not attend the committee vote for Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Administration.
*National Security Advisor Michael Flynn warns Iran, “We’re putting [you] on notice” after revelation of an Iranian ballistic missile test and an attack by Yemen’s Houthi movement on a Saudi frigate.
*The House of Representative votes to remove restrictions on the dumping of coal waste in streams.
*Trump encourages Senate Republicans to “go nuclear” to ensure the approval of Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Trump’s reference is to an extraordinary measure to circument any filibuster by Democrats of the nomination. Normally, the Senate — where Republicans have a 52-48 majority — requires 60 votes to end such a filibuster.
*A draft executive order for a “Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” says federal employees can refuse to perform any duty that violates their religious beliefs.
The order also mandates that individuals or groups can opt out of the “preventive-care provisions”, including birth control, of ObamaCare. Individuals will be able to obtain insurance from a provider that refuses to cover abortions.
*Trump turned a statement to mark Black History Month into an attack on the media.
The statement and the follow-up by Press Secretary Sean Spicer also raised questions as to whether Trump and his officials realize that Frederick Douglass — celebrated African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman — died 120 years ago.
(h/t Al Jazeera Plus)