Live Coverage

Today's News: Feb. 7, 2017

Federal judges hear immigration ban arguments, Dakota Access Pipeline clears final hurdle, and more from the United States and around the world.

Noah Berger / Reuters

—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco heard arguments on the Justice Department’s plea to reinstate President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. More here

—The Army Corps of Engineers will approve the final permit needed to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. More here

—Betsy DeVos became the first Cabinet-level official to be confirmed after the vice president broke a tie-breaker in the Senate. More here

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


This live blog has concluded

Mitch McConnell Silences Elizabeth Warren on the Senate Floor

Caption Senator Elizabeth Warren / YouTube

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut short Senator Elizabeth Warren Tuesday night, preventing her from continuing to read aloud from a letter written by Coretta Scott King in 1986 to oppose the nomination of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship. Sessions, the Alabama senator chosen by President Trump to serve as attorney general, was denied the judgeship in 1986 based on allegations that he had made racist remarks and unfairly prosecuted voting-rights activists.

The letter from King, the widow of civil-rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., is withering in its criticism of Sessions. King wrote that the then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.” The King letter had remained hidden until unearthed by the Washington Post earlier this year, in part because then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Strom Thurmond, once an ardent segregationist, had not entered it into the record.

As Warren began to read from the letter, McConnell objected, saying the Massachusetts Democrat was breaking the rules of the Senate by disparaging a colleague. “The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” going on to repeat part of the letter that Warren had read.

“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said, asking to continue, a request that was rejected. A majority of the Republican-controlled Senate then voted to reject her appeal to that ruling, ensuring that she could not continue.

Warren’s staff wasted little time in posting the exchange to her YouTube channel.

Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments on Trump's Immigration Order

Noah Berger / Reuters

Updated at 7 p.m.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco heard arguments Tuesday on the Justice Department’s plea to reinstate President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. The three-judge panel heavily critiqued the government’s arguments in favor of the ban.

August Flentje, the Justice Department’s lawyer, said the ban was within the president’s power, arguing “our procedures should be secure” in screening foreign nationals into the country. He was unable to present specific evidence, though, on why those seven countries were targeted with the “temporary pause,” saying the proceedings “are moving quite fast.” One of the judges on the three-judge panel called the government’s reasoning “abstract,” and asked if the president’s decision was unreviewable. After a long pause, Flentje said, “yes.”

Flentje also argued the states did not have the constitutional right to sue on behalf of visa holders. All three judges seemed to reject that argument.

Noah Purcell, Washington state solicitor general, who argued on behalf of Washington and Minnesota, said the executive order did “irreparable harm” to the states, including to staff of state universities and family members of state residents. He said the order has affected thousands of people in those states.

Judge Richard Clifton did question Purcell whether it was fair to call this a ban based on religion, considering the vast majority of Muslims would not be affected by the ban. Purcell said the government had the “intent to discriminate against Muslims.”

The ban had stopped all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—even if they were permanent residents of the U.S.—from entering the U.S., but legal challenges led judges across the country to block parts of the president’s order. As I’ve previously reported, a federal judge in Seattle blocked the main part of the order Friday, allowing citizens of those countries with valid U.S. visas to enter the country. The Trump administration appealed. On Sunday, the San Francisco court refused to reinstate the order, instead ordering the Justice Department to submit a brief defending the ban. The Trump administration says the order’s goal is to keep the homeland safe. Civil-rights group said the order is unconstitutional. The court is expected to make a ruling this week.

Thousands Lose Power After a Tornado Hits New Orleans

A mother and her son observe the damage after a tornado tore through their home in New Orleans on February 7, 2017. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

At least 10,000 people were left without power in New Orleans Tuesday after a powerful tornado hit southeastern Louisiana, causing multiple injuries and damage to city buildings and power lines. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state-wide state of emergency in response to the storm, which included heavy winds and at least six tornados. “I am heartbroken to once again see Louisiana families suffering in the wake of devastating tornadoes today,” Edwards said Tuesday in a statement. “We are working tirelessly to ensure that every citizen affected by this storm receives the resources they need as quickly as possible.” Affected areas in eastern New Orleans were also heavily impacted by flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which led to the deaths of more than 1,800 people.

Dakota Access Pipeline Clears Final Hurdle

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The Army Corps of Engineers will approve the final permit needed to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. After months of protests from environmental groups and Native American tribes, President Trump recently signed an executive order paving the way for the $3.8 billion pipeline’s approval. The announcement from the Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday was the final step. The 1,200-mile pipeline will go under Missouri River reservoir that is a water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. That one-mile stretch of the pipeline in North Dakota was the last remaining unbuilt section of the pipeline. Law enforcement officials have attempted to evict protest camps in the pipeline’s route for several days now. Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement Tuesday, “The granting of this easement goes against protocol, it goes against legal process, it disregards more than 100,000 comments already submitted as part of the not-yet-completed environmental review process—all for the sake of Donald Trump’s billionaire big oil cronies.”

Senate Confirms DeVos After Pence Breaks Senate Tie

Betsy DeVos has become the first Cabinet-level official to be confirmed by a tie-breaking vote after Vice President Mike Pence voted to break a Senate deadlock. The final vote was 51-50. As my colleague Russell Berman reports, the vote “capped a week of fierce lobbying on DeVos’s nomination after two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, broke with their party in announcing they would oppose her confirmation.” Read Russell’s Cabinet tracker here.

Secretary Kelly Takes Responsibility for Trump's Immigration Order

(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

John Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said Tuesday that in retrospect he should have delayed the release of President Trump’s executive order on immigration “just a bit” so he could inform members of Congress of its potential impact. “Going forward, I would have certainly taken some time to inform the Congress, and certainly that’s something I’ll certainly do in the future,” Kelly told a House Homeland Security subcommittee. The retired Marine Corps general appeared to take the blame for the controversial rollout of the 90-day ban on visitors from seven Muslim and predominantly Muslim countries, as well as the 120-day halt on the intake of refugees from around the world, telling lawmakers “this is all on me, by the way.” But he defended the contents of Trump’s order, noting it was long part of Trump’s election campaign. “The desire was to get it out,” Kelly said of the order. “The thinking was to get it out quick, so that potentially people who might be coming here to harm us” would be unable to “jump on an airplane and get here.” Kelly last week denied a news report he only learned of the order when an aide saw Trump signing it on television. “It wasn't a surprise it was coming,” he said. He added the Department of Homeland Security would carry out the order “humanely, and in accordance with the law.”

Judge Orders Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Stand Trial


Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been ordered by a judge to stand trial in connection with the so-called Bygmalion campaign-finance scandal. At issue are accusations Sarkozy’s political party hid 18 million euros (about $20 million) of spending in the 2012 election campaign. The BBC adds: “France sets limits on campaign spending, and it is alleged the firm Bygmalion invoiced Mr Sarkozy's party rather than the campaign, allowing the [party] to exceed the limit.” Sarkozy, who said Tuesday he would appeal the order to stand trial, has denied wrongdoing. Sarkozy, who was French president from 2007 to 2012, lost his bid for re-election. His attempt to make a comeback this year failed when he lost in his center-right Republican party primary to François Fillon, who is embroiled in his own campaign scandal.

Deadly Suicide Bombing Near Afghanistan's Supreme Court Kills 20

Afghanistan’s Supreme Court (Sayed Salahuddin / Reuters)

More than 20 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a suicide-bomb attack near Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in Kabul. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest in several recent deadly strikes in the country. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for many previous attacks. On Monday, the UN said 3,498 people were killed in 2016 and nearly 8,000 injured in the violence. The UN said the Taliban was to blame for much of the civilian death toll, but also cited the presence of ISIS, which has targeted Afghanistan’s Shia minority.

This is a developing story and we’ll update it when we learn more.