Top News Stories for Today – February 25, 2017
US to award contracts for building Mexico border wall
The US government plans to start awarding preliminary contracts by April for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, to fulfill one of President Donald Trump’s principal campaign promises. US Customs and Border Protection said it will accept “concept papers” for the wall’s design beginning next week and will choose the best ones by March 20.
The agency will then ask vendors for construction cost estimates and, after reviewing their bids, begin granting contracts by mid-April — a remarkably quick schedule for a government construction project. Trump told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that the border-wall project was “way ahead of schedule.” VOA
McMaster breaks with WH on views of Islam
President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting. That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn.
It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Mr. Flynn. In his language, General McMaster is closer to the positions of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both took pains to separate acts of terrorism from Islamic teaching, in part because they argued that the United States needed the help of Muslim allies to hunt down terrorists. New York Times
Democrats set to choose new DNC chair
The 447 members of the Democratic National Committee will meet in Atlanta on Saturday to choose a new DNC chair, an important step of self-definition for a party seeking new direction after its unexpected loss of the White House in November.
Seven candidates are in contention for the position, but the two favorites are Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who is backed by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has the support of Former Vice President Joe Biden as well as other high-ranking officials from the erstwhile Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign. The previous DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned in 2016 after leaked emails suggested she inappropriately favored Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic primaries. Donna Brazile stepped in as an interim chair in July. The Hill, Reuters
At CPAC Trump appeals to patriotism
President Trump opened his speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference with a tirade against the media, which he has deemed the “enemy of the American people.” Trump suggested banning anonymous sources, noting a nine-source story by The Washington Post that accurately detailed former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s discussions with a Russian ambassador.
Doubling down on campaign promises, Trump promised he’d be rounding up “the gang members, the drug dealers, and the criminal aliens and throwing them the hell out of our country,” and reiterated his pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which he claimed covered “very few people” despite statistics indicating it has enabled nearly 20 million Americans to gain coverage. He closed with a focus on “America First,” dismissing globalism with a reminder that there is “no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag.”
White House blocks medias from press gaggle
The White House blocked several major news organizations from attending an informal, off-camera briefing Friday in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s office. CNN, The New York Times, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, and much of the foreign press were not allowed in the room, although conservative outlets including Breitbart, The Washington Times, and One America News Network were allowed to attend.
Networks such as NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox were also included. Reporters from The Associated Press and Time boycotted the press gaggle in protest of their colleagues’ exclusion. President Trump praised the First Amendment in a speech at CPAC on Friday, claiming it gives him “the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.” “I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me,” Trump said. CNN, BuzzFeed
Iraq launches first airstrike against ISIS in Syria
The Iraqi air force on Friday morning carried out its first airstrike against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed. “We are determined to chase terrorism that tries to kill our sons and citizens wherever it is found, so we gave orders to the air force command to strike Islamic State positions in [the Iraqi towns of] Hosaiba and Albu Kamal inside Syrian territory as they were responsible for recent bombings in Baghdad,” Abadi said in a statement.
The Joint Operations Command said the strikes “destroyed Islamic State headquarters in Albu Kamal,” Reuters reported. The strike, which was reportedly carried out in “complete coordination” with the Syrian government, follows several ISIS-claimed car bombings in Iraq and comes amid Iraqi troops’ final push into western Mosul, the terrorist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq. Reuters, The Associated Press