Thursday morning news: February 14, 2019

White House waiting on final funding bill » As lawmakers hammered out the wording of a bipartisan funding bill Wednesday, President Trump still would not say if he plans to sign it. But sources say he’s leaning that way.

TRUMP: We’re gonna take a look at it when it comes. I don’t want to see a shutdown. A shutdown would be a terrible thing. 

Lawmakers were still haggling over final details yesterday, but they appeared on track to finish soon.

Among the last-minute hang-ups, whether to include a simple extension of the Violence Against Women Act in the bill. Lawmakers are also debating language over back pay for employees and federal contractors. The continued haggling means that a House vote can’t come before Thursday night, at the earliest.

GOP moves toward Senate rules change to speed Trump nominees » Republicans took a first step toward changing Senate rules on Wednesday to speed up approval of President Trump’s nominees.

The Senate Rules Committee passed a resolution along party lines that would cut debate time on nominations. The GOP says Democrats have filibustered and otherwise slow-walked nominees, leading to a backlog of vacancies.

The 10-to-9 committee vote sets up a showdown that could see Republicans use the so-called nuclear option to authorize changes on a majority vote.

In 2013, Senate Democrats used that tactic to end Republican filibusters on President Obama’s judicial picks. Republicans then used it in 2017 to clear the way for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation.

Battle for last ISIS stronghold nearing an end » A bloody battle in eastern Syria to reclaim the last ISIS stronghold is nearing an end. WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin reports.

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: U.S.-led coalition war planes roared over the village of Baghouz along the Iraqi border this week where some 600 ISIS fighters have been making their final stand.  

Bombs ripped through ISIS positions, softening targets as fighters with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces moved in.

On Wednesday more than 200 ISIS fighters surrendered. But others are fighting to the death, using suicide and car bombs and holding civilians as human shields.

Syrian state media said airstrikes killed or wounded about 70 civilians on the edge of the village where hundreds were taking shelter. Coalition spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan said officials are looking into the report.

After the remaining ISIS fighters are killed or captured, coalition forces will have to clear the area. Ryan said ISIS left bombs behind to intentionally kill civilians.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.

DOJ: Air Force intel officer gave military secrets to Iran » Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday that they’ve charged a former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence specialist with defecting to Iran and divulging potentially damaging military secrets.

39-year-old Monica Elfriede Witt allegedly gave Iran information about a Pentagon program, along with information about former intelligence colleagues. Four hackers linked to the Iranian government allegedly used that information to target Witt’s former colleagues online.

Witt was on the FBI’s radar before she defected after she attended an Iranian conference and appeared in anti-American videos. She was warned about her activities, but was not arrested.

Monica Witt is a Texas native who served 11 years in the Air Force before working as a Defense Department contractor. She defected to Iran in 2013.

Vice President Pence addresses allies in Poland » Meantime, the Trump administration is looking to rally support for its hardline stance on Iran.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke Wednesday in Warsaw, Poland at the Conference on Middle East Security and Peace.

PENCE: To confront the threats that we face today, the people of Poland know and the people of the United States know that the free world needs the members of NATO to be strong and united. And so we are. 

The U.S. and Poland are jointly hosting the conference, attended by some 60 nations. But some of America’s closest European allies did not send their top diplomats, highlighting differences in how best to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As Pence addressed allies Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei denounced the United States.

He said negotiating with the U.S. would be an “unforgivable mistake” that would be like—quote—”going on your knees before the enemy and kissing the claws of the wolf.”

Chicago megachurch fires pastor after vulgar remarks » The elders of Chicago megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel have fired James MacDonald as senior pastor after a radio show aired audio Tuesday of vulgar and inflammatory comments he made. WORLD Radio’s Leigh Jones has that story.

LEIGH JONES, NEWS EDITOR: In a statement released Wednesday morning, the elders said they had decided, after a lengthy time of reflection and prayer, to remove MacDonald as pastor.

It said “that timeline accelerated” after a Chicago radio show aired comments MacDonald made against the magazine Christianity Today and journalist Julie Roys.

The recording included obscene references to Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith, editor Mark Galli, and contributing editor Ed Stetzer, along with a threat to put child pornography on Smith’s computer.

MacDonald is also heard accusing Galli of having an affair with Roys, whose December 2018 investigative report in WORLD Magazine detailed financial mismanagement and a culture of deception and intimidation at the church.

Roys responded on her blog Tuesday saying MacDonald’s remarks were “disgusting.” She added “Galli and I have never had anything but a professional relationship, and it’s repulsive that anyone—a pastor, no less—would make a joke about that.”

MacDonald took an indefinite sabbatical from the pastorate last month.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Leigh Jones.

Judge rules Manafort lied, violated pea deal » A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort intentionally lied to investigators with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. And District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in the process, Manafort violated his plea deal.

Her ruling hurts Manafort’s chance of receiving a reduced sentence, though Jackson said she’ll decide the exact impact during his sentencing next month.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) In this Jan. 23, 2019, file photo, a view of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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