Here are the top five stories in political news you don’t want to miss: Senate approves measure to avert government shutdown, and Korea backs down on promised denuclearization.
The Justice Department ethics officials say acting AG can oversee Trump-Russia investigation; Putin agrees with Trump that US has eliminated ISIS in Syria and also warns that threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated.
1. Senate approves stopgap measure to avert government shutdown, sends to House
The Senate approved a stopgap spending measure to fund nine of the 15 cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies until February 8. The funding bill does not include the $5 billion for a border wall requested by President Donald Trump.
The measure still has two hurdles to overcome: At heads next for a vote in the House of Representatives, then it has to be signed by President Trump. If the bill gets through, it will prevent a shutdown of the government which is set to begin after midnight on Friday.
“We have to see what the House does,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), adding that the Senate will remain in session Thursday.
2. North Korea will not denuclearize until US eliminates nuclear threat
North Korea says it will not give up its nuclear weapons until the United States removes its nuclear threat first. The bombshell statement comes as negotiations between Pyongyang an d Washington over denuclearization and the removal of international sanctions has come to a deadlock.
“The proper definition of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is completely eliminating the American nuclear threat to North Korea before eliminating our nuclear capability,” according to a commentary published by state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
This latest statement by Pyongyang casts doubts as to whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will ever voluntarily relinquished his nuclear arsenal.
3. Acting AG cleared to oversee Trump-Russia investigation
After consulting with ethics officials at the Justice Department, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has been cleared to oversee special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, with officials advising him that he does not need to recuse himself.
Previously, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein oversaw the investigation following former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself, and Rosenstein’s office is still managing the investigation on a day-to-day basis. Sessions had recused himself due to his work on the 2016 Trump campaign.
Whitaker became acting Attorney General after Session’s resignation. In addition to oversight on the Russia investigation, Whitaker will also oversee the Justice Department’s other federal investigations, which include the New York prosecutor’s examination of the finances of Trump and his former aides.
4. Putin agrees with Trump’s decision withdraw from Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees with US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America’s forces from Syria after declaring victory over ISIL (ISIS).
“The fact that the US has decided to withdraw its troops is right,” Putin said during a press conference on Thursday.
Putin added that “as concerns the victory over IS, on the whole I agree with the US president…we have dealt serious blows against IS in Syria.”
On Thursday, President Trump tweeted: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA”
5. Putin warns nuclear war threat should not be underestimated
Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticized a move by the US to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed in 1987, warning that the threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated.
“Now they’re making another step and they are withdrawing from the INF treaty so what’s going to come out of that?” Putin said at his annual news conference. “It’s hard to imagine what will come next.” The Russian president went on to say that an escalation of tensions could lead to a war that should not be allowed to happen.
In October, President Donald Trump said that he will withdraw the US from the INF treaty, citing violations by Russia, saying that Moscow has been building and fielding the banned weapons “for many years.” Russia denies that it has violated the deal.