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Finally Senate Confirms 1st Judicial Nominee Of Joe Biden’s Administration

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Senate Democrats marked a milestone on Tuesday: They confirmed the first judicial nominee of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The Senate voted 66-33 to confirm Julien Xavier Neals, 56, to a lifetime seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Every Democrat voted to confirm Neals, along with 17 Republicans. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the only senator who did not vote.

Neals was previously a nominee to this court in 2015, when President Barack Obama nominated him. But then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) let Neals’ nomination gather dust for more than a year until it eventually expired in January 2017.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted the significance of Neals’ confirmation and said he’s eager to get moving on more of Biden’s court picks.

“The first, but certainly not the last, not even close,” Schumer said ahead of the vote. “I greatly look forward to confirming what will be the first of many judicial appointments during the Biden administration.”

The Senate confirmed Biden’s second judicial nominee later Tuesday. Senators voted 72-28 to confirm Regina Rodriguez, 57, to a lifetime seat on a U.S. district court in Colorado.

The president offered his “sincere gratitude” to the Senate for confirming both of his nominees with strong bipartisan support.

“They are both highly qualified, and they represent the diversity that is one of the ultimate strengths of our nation ― in all branches of government, including the judiciary,” he said in a statement. “Other nominees are awaiting confirmation who also have bipartisan support, and I hope they will be rapidly confirmed as well.”

Trump’s first judicial nominee was confirmed much earlier than Biden’s. It was Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who Republicans rushed through to confirmation on April 7, 2017, less than three months after Donald Trump was sworn into office. Gorsuch filled the Supreme Court seat that Republicans had prevented Obama from filling for nearly a year with his nominee, Merrick Garland, who is now the U.S. attorney general.

But Biden is on track to confirm more judges by July than any president has done in their first year in more than 50 years.

“I look forward to continuing to make nominations at an historic pace and working closely with the Senate on many more confirmations,” he said.

Progressive groups are agitating for Democrats to make confirming judges a top priority now that they control the Senate and the White House. Thanks largely to McConnell, Trump appointed more than 230 lifetime federal judges during his four years as president. That’s more than Obama (175), George W. Bush (206) and Bill Clinton (204) did in their first terms in the White House.

Trump’s court picks were also very homogenous. Many were conservative white male corporate lawyers. Progressive groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, Demand Justice and Service Employees International Union have been pressing Democratic senators to recommend much more diverse nominees to the president, in terms of race and gender but also in professional background.

Biden has 17 other judicial nominees awaiting Senate action. As of Tuesday, there are 80 vacancies on U.S. district and appeals courts.

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BREAKING: Rescuers locate crash site of helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi

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The crash site of the helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has been located, Iranian state news agency IRNA and semi-official news outlet ISNA reported on Monday.

The helicopter crashed in a remote part of the country on Sunday.

As president of Iran, Raisi is the second most powerful individual in the Islamic Republic’s political structure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. He became president in a historically uncompetitive election in 2021, and he has overseen a period of intensified repression of dissent in a nation convulsed by youth-led protests against religious clerical rule.

The crash comes at a fraught moment in the Middle East, with war raging in Gaza and weeks after Iran launched a drone-and-missile attack on Israel in response to a deadly strike on its diplomatic compound in Damascus.

As the sun rose Monday, Raisi and the others on board remained missing more than 12 hours after the likely crash, with Turkish drone footage suggesting the helicopter went down in the mountains. Rescuers rushed to the site.

The incident comes as Iran under Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel last month and has enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Iran has also faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over an ailing economy and women’s rights — making the moment that much more sensitive for Tehran and the future of the country as the Israel-Hamas war inflames the wider Middle East.

Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV said what it called a “hard landing” happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with the nation of Azerbaijan, some 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Later, state TV put it farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

Traveling with Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. One local government official used the word “crash,” but others referred to either a “hard landing” or an “incident.”

Neither IRNA nor state TV offered any information on Raisi’s condition in the hours afterward.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

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‘I’ll bring my plane… I plan on keeping it for another four years’ – Biden on second debate with Trump

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President Biden and former President Trump agreed to hold a second debate Sept. 10 hosted by ABC News.

The two candidates had already accepted an invitation earlier Wednesday to attend a CNN debate on June 27, and both confirmed later in the day on social media that they plan to attend the ABC debate in September.

“I’ve also received and accepted an invitation to a debate hosted by ABC on Tuesday, September 10th,” Biden posted on the social platform X. “Trump says he’ll arrange his own transportation. I’ll bring my plane, too. I plan on keeping it for another four years.”

Biden, of course, is referring to the presidential jet, Air Force One.

“It is my great honor to accept the CNN Debate against Crooked Joe Biden, the WORST PRESIDENT in the History of the United States and a true Threat to Democracy, on June 27th,” Trump posted on Truth Social. “Likewise, I accept the ABC News Debate against Crooked Joe on September 10th.”

It marked a whirlwind few hours that started with Biden’s campaign publicly proposing two deabtes in June and September and ended with both candidates agreeing to a date and host.

ABC News had planned to host a GOP primary debate in New Hampshire, but it was canceled after Trump and Nikki Haley said they would not attend. Martha Raddatz of ABC co-moderated one of the 2016 presidential debates; the network did not host a debate in 2020.

The candidates have chosen to go around the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization that has arranged the showdowns dating back to 1988.

Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon suggested working with outlets that hosted GOP primary debates in 2016 and Democratic primary debates in 2020 to avoid any perceptions of bias.

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Nigerian officials probe plan to marry off scores of female orphans

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Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Women Affairs says it is investigating a plan by a lawmaker in central Niger state to marry off some 100 female orphans of unknown ages later this month.

Speaker of the Niger State Assembly Abdulmalik Sarkin-Daji announced the mass wedding last week but called off the ceremony following widespread outrage.

Minister of Women Affairs Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, speaking to journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, condemned the plans.

Kennedy-Ohanenye said she had petitioned the police and filed a lawsuit to stop the marriages pending an investigation to ascertain the age of the orphans and whether they consented to the marriages.

“This is totally unacceptable by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and by the government” of Nigeria, she said.

Last week, Sarkin-Daji announced his support for the mass wedding of the orphans, whose relatives were killed during attacks by armed bandits. He said it was part of his support to his constituents following an appeal for wedding funding by local traditional and religious leaders.

The mass wedding had been scheduled for May 24.

“That support I intend to give for the marriage of those orphans, I’m withdrawing it,” he said. “The parents can have the support [money], if they wish, let them go ahead and marry them off. As it is right now, I’m not threatened by the action of the minister.”

Despite national laws prohibiting it, forced or arranged marriage is a common phenomenon in Nigeria, especially among rural communities in the predominantly Muslim north, where religious and cultural norms such as polygamy favor the practice.

Poor families often use forced marriage to ease financial pressure, and the European Union Agency for Asylum says girls who refuse could face repercussions such as neglect, ostracism, physical assault and rape.

Raquel Kasham Daniel escaped being married off as a teenager when her father died and now runs a nonprofit helping children, especially less-privileged girls, get a formal education for free.

She said the ability of women to avoid forced marriage in Nigeria depends on their income and education.

“I was 16 when I lost my dad and I was almost married off, but then I ran away from home. And that gave me the opportunity to complete my education, and now I have a better life,” Daniel said.

“So, the reason why I prioritize education is to make sure that other girls have access to quality schooling so that it will help them make informed decisions about their lives. Education not only increases our awareness as girls about our rights but also enhances our prospects for higher income earning,” she said.

Thirty percent of girls in Nigeria are married before they turn 18, according to Girls Not Brides, a global network of more than 1,400 civil society groups working to end child marriage.

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