Government shutdown may upend State of the Union speech
WASHINGTON — A grand Washington ritual became a potential casualty of the partial government shutdown Wednesday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked President Donald Trump to postpone his Jan. 29 State of the Union speech. She cited concerns about whether the hobbled government can provide adequate security, but Republicans cast her move as a ploy to deny Trump the stage.
In a letter to Trump, Pelosi said with both the Secret Service and the Homeland Security Department entangled in the shutdown, the president should speak to Congress another time or he should deliver the address in writing. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied anyone’s safety is compromised, saying both agencies “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
Trump did not immediately respond to the request and the White House, thrown off guard by the move, had yet to offer any official response hours later. But GOP allies accused Pelosi of playing politics, with Republican Rep. Steve Scalise tweeting that Democrats are “only interested in obstructing @realDonaldTrump, not governing.”
Pelosi, who issued the customary invitation to Trump weeks ago, hit the president in a vulnerable place, as he delights in taking his message to the public and has been preparing for the address for weeks.
The uncertainty surrounding the speech also underscored the unraveling of ceremonial norms and niceties in Trump’s Washington, with the shutdown in its fourth week, the White House and Democrats in a stalemate and the impasse draining the finances of hundreds of thousands of federal employees.
American anchor for Iranian TV is arrested on visit to US
NEW ORLEANS — A prominent American anchorwoman on Iranian state television has been arrested by the FBI during a visit to the U.S., the broadcaster reported Wednesday, and her son said she was being held in a prison, apparently as a material witness.
Marzieh Hashemi, who worked for the network’s English-language service, was detained in St. Louis, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area. She was then taken to Washington, according to her elder son, Hossein Hashemi.
The FBI said in an email that it had no comment on the arrest of the woman who was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans and has worked for Iran’s state television network for 25 years.
Hossein Hashemi said his mother lives in Tehran and comes back to this country about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work somewhere in the U.S. as well.
“We still have no idea what’s going on,” said Hashemi, a research fellow at the University of Colorado who was interviewed by phone from Washington. He also said he and his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
Death toll in Nairobi attack climbs to 21, plus 5 attackers
NAIROBI, Kenya — The death toll from an extremist attack on a luxury hotel and shopping complex in Nairobi climbed to 21, plus the five militants killed, police said Wednesday in the aftermath of the brazen overnight siege by al-Shabab gunmen. Two people accused of facilitating the attack were arrested.
The number of those killed at the DusitD2 complex rose with the discovery of six more bodies at the scene and the death of a wounded police officer, said Joseph Boinnet, inspector-general of Kenyan police. Twenty-eight people were hurt and taken to the hospital, he said.
In a televised address to the nation earlier in the day, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the all-night operation by security forces to retake the complex was over and that all of the extremists had been killed.
“We will seek out every person that was involved in the funding, planning and execution of this heinous act,” he vowed.
In an attack that demonstrated al-Shabab’s continued ability to strike Kenya’s capital despite setbacks on the battlefield, extremists stormed the place with guns and explosives. Security camera footage released to local media showed a suicide bomber blowing himself up in a grassy area in the complex, the flash visible along with smoke billowing from the spot where he had been standing.
From wire sources
Michigan State President Engler says he’ll resign next week
DETROIT — The former governor brought in to help Michigan State recover from the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal resigned Wednesday as the school’s interim president amid backlash over his comments about some of the ex-sports doctor’s victims.
John Engler, who had resisted earlier pressure to resign, announced his plans in an 11-page letter to Dianne Byrum, chairwoman of Michigan State’s Board of Trustees. It makes no mention of recent criticism of his remarks and instead lists what he considers to be his accomplishments in his one year of service, saying the university is a “dramatically better, stronger institution.”
Engler said he was in Texas attending a service for his late father-in-law. His resignation, which he said he was making at the trustees’ request, is effective on Jan. 23.
With his sudden reversal, Engler joins a long list of people — including his predecessor as president — who have been fired, forced out of their jobs or charged with crimes amid fallout from the school’s handling of the once-renowned sports doctor stretching back decades.
The final straw for the university’s board came last week when Engler told The Detroit News that Nassar’s victims had been in the “spotlight” and are “still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition.”
Syria attack kills 4 Americans, raising questions on pullout
WASHINGTON — A suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State killed at least 16 people, including two U.S. service members and two American civilians, in northern Syria on Wednesday, just a month after President Donald Trump declared that IS had been defeated and he was pulling out U.S. forces.
The attack in the strategic northeastern town of Manbij highlighted the threat posed by the Islamic State group despite Trump’s claims. It could also complicate what had already become a messy withdrawal plan, with the president’s senior advisers disagreeing with the decision and then offering an evolving timetable for the removal of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops.
The attack, which also wounded three U.S. troops, was the deadliest assault on U.S. troops in Syria since American forces went into the country in 2015.
The dead included a number of fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought alongside the Americans against the Islamic State, according to officials and the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
According to a U.S. official, one of the U.S. civilians killed was an intelligence specialist working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The other was an interpreter, who was a contractor.
The best Rx for teens addicted to vaping? No one knows
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top health authorities agree: Teen vaping is an epidemic that now affects some 3.6 million underage users of Juul and other e-cigarettes. But no one seems to know the best way to help teenagers who may be addicted to nicotine.
E-cigarettes are now the top high-risk substance used by teenagers, according to the latest U.S. figures , which show that Juul and similar products have quickly outpaced cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and other substances that have been tracked over more than four decades.
The handheld devices heat a liquid solution that usually contains nicotine into an inhalable vapor. Federal law prohibits sales to those under 18, though many high schoolers report getting them from older students or online.
In recent months, government officials have rolled out a series of proposals aimed at keeping the products away from youngsters, including tightening sales in convenience stores and online. In November, vaping giant Juul voluntarily shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts and pulled several flavors out of retail stores.
But there’s been little discussion of how to treat nicotine addiction in children as young as 11 years old. While some adolescents should be able to quit unaided, experts say many will be hampered by withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating and loss of appetite.
Los Angeles teachers union hints at new talks during strike
LOS ANGELES — The head of the Los Angeles teachers union hinted at contract talks resuming Wednesday as striking educators in the nation’s second-largest school district protested outside hundreds of schools for a third day.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the union had engaged Mayor Eric Garcetti to help in the dispute over pay, class sizes and support-staff levels that led to the first strike in 30 years and prompted the school district to staff classrooms with substitute teachers.
Caputo-Pearl provided no further details. The mayor lacks authority over Los Angeles Unified School District, but he has been involved in seeking a resolution.
“We’ll have more information for you later in the day about the bargaining table and when we’re getting back to that bargaining table,” Caputo-Pearl told teachers rallying in the rain outside a high school. No details were announced by sundown.
Parents and children — one holding a sign saying, “This wouldn’t happen at Hogwarts” — joined the picket lines. Rocker and actor Steven Van Zandt, an advocate for arts education, also marched, saying teachers are on the front lines “fighting the war against ignorance.”