Witness against ‘El Chapo’ sentenced to 15 years for role in drug trafficking

CHICAGO — A former top aide to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman whose testimony in New York helped convict the Sinaloa cartel kingpin was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday in federal court in Chicago for playing a key role in trafficking thousands of pounds of cocaine and heroin into the U.S. using speedboats, submarines and jumbo jets.

Vicente Zambada-Niebla, 44, had faced up to life in prison, but U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo credited him for what prosecutors had called his “unrivaled” cooperation.

With credit for the decade he’s already served in custody, Zambada-Niebla could be released in less than three years. He’ll likely spend the rest of his life in witness protection, however, prosecutors have said.

Nicknamed “Vicentillo,” Zambada-Niebla was born into the cartel life and rose through the ranks under the tutelage of his father, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, to become one of Guzman’s most trusted associates.

Zambada-Niebla was extradited to Chicago, where he secretly pleaded guilty in 2013 and began cooperating himself.

— Chicago Tribune

D.C. statehood bill set for hearing with new backing from House majority leader

WASHINGTON — The D.C. statehood movement is heading to Capitol Hill this summer, now backed for the first time by Marylander and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has scheduled a July 24 hearing on legislation that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state.

The measure, sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s nonvoting representative in the House, announced the hearing Thursday at an event at the D.C. War Memorial on the National Mall. She was joined by the district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

The location was chosen to emphasize that district residents have fought and died in wars overseas, without having a vote in Congress on whether the country goes to war.

Norton has introduced a D.C. statehood bill every term since coming to the House in 1991. The latest version, dubbed HR 51 in a nod to the 51st state, has gathered more co-sponsors than ever before, including more than 200 House Democrats. This week she gained a key ally in House leadership in Hoyer.

— CQ Roll Call

Republican holdouts delay $19.1 billion disaster aid bill for a third time

WASHINGTON — The bipartisan $19.1 billion disaster aid bill hit another speed bump Thursday when a third GOP congressman objected to clearing the legislation through unanimous consent.

The package, which received final sign-off from Republicans and Democrats as well as the Trump administration a week ago, will instead likely pass the House on Monday when that chamber returns for recorded votes.

Tennessee Republican Rep. Justin W. Rose blocked unanimous consent Thursday. Rose follows in the footsteps of Republicans Rep. Chip Roy of Texas who prevented its passage last Friday and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who objected to sending the bill to the White House on Tuesday.

— CQ Roll Call

Modi sworn in as India’s leader amid pressing economic slowdown

NEW DELHI — Narendra Modi was sworn in once again as India’s prime minister on Thursday alongside a slate of Cabinet ministers who need to arrest an economic slowdown and boost employment after receiving a resounding mandate in the country’s election.

President Ram Nath Kovind presided over the evening ceremony in the forecourt of New Delhi’s colonial-era presidential palace. It was one of the biggest-ever ceremonial events at the palace, and was attended by about 8,000 guests, including foreign dignitaries from neighboring countries, political leaders, business titans and celebrities.

Amit Shah, Modi’s right-hand man as president of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, was sworn in amid speculation he may be handed the finance portfolio after Arun Jaitley asked not to be considered on health grounds.

Modi, 68, becomes the country’s first premier to be reelected with a majority since 1984. His Hindu nationalist BJP smashed exit poll predictions with a landslide victory. His BJP won 303 seats in 543-member lower house of parliament, enough for a single-party majority.

— Bloomberg News

Haitian senators ransack Parliament in failed effort to ratify a new government

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s third attempt to ratify a new government and prime minister ended in chaos Thursday, when a vote in the country’s Senate was interrupted as four opposition senators ransacked the chamber — dragging chairs, desks and other furniture onto the lawn — and police fired tear gas at protesters.

The act was captured on video in front of Parliament security and Haiti National Police officers, who had been called to beef up security for Thursday’s vote. The vandalism was immediately condemned by the United Nations, U.S., Canada and others in the international community.

“These deplorable events go against democratic principles,” Canada’s ambassador in Haiti, Andre Frenette, tweeted. “Canada is calling for a national dialogue aiming at solutions to the security, economic and social crisis that is affecting the Haitian population.”

Haiti has been without a working government for more than two months, costing the impoverished nation more than $120 million in aid from international financial institutions aimed at helping the country prepare for the upcoming hurricane season and shore up a rapidly deteriorating economy.

It was the country’s third attempt to ratify a new government and confirm nominated Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin after the Lower Chamber of Deputies abruptly fired ex-Prime Minister Jean-Henry Ceant on March 18.

— Miami Herald