Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 18, 2017

Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence, Democrats hit education pick Betsy DeVos with sharp questions, and more


Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence

President Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of leaking classified military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning's initial release date was 2045, but now she will be released in May 2017 after nearly seven years in jail. Manning's 35 year sentence was the longest in U.S. history for a leak. Many, including NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have urged Obama to commute Manning, who has twice tried to commit suicide and gone on a hunger strike to fight for gender reassignment surgery. Manning's commutation came on a day when Obama commuted the sentences of 209 people.


Senators split in confirmation hearing for education pick DeVos

President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to head the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, faced a bumpy confirmation hearing on Tuesday, with Republican senators praising her as a much-needed reformer while Democrats suggested that she was unqualified for the job. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, has lobbied for expanding charter schools and providing taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools, but she has never worked with public schools. She sidestepped several issues important to Democrats, such as whether guns should be allowed in schools, and called Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) call for free college "interesting."


Report: 18 million would lose insurance if ObamaCare repealed but not replaced

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report Tuesday estimating that at least 18 million people would lose health insurance in the first year if Republicans repeal ObamaCare without replacing it. The number without health insurance coverage would rise to 32 million in a decade, and premiums would double. Republicans are rushing to make good on a promise that people won't lose coverage. President-elect Donald Trump said over the weekend that he was completing a plan to provide "insurance for everybody." Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the outgoing secretary for health and human services, said that so far "we really haven't seen a plan" to replace provisions of the Affordable Care Act that Republicans want to dismantle.


Nigerian jet targeting Boko Haram hits refugee camp

A Nigerian air force jet attempting to bomb Boko Haram militants mistakenly struck a refugee camp on Tuesday, killing as many as 100 people. Aid workers, including six Red Cross employees, were among the dead. Doctors Without Borders put the death toll at about 50, with another 120 people injured. The humanitarian group called the strike "shocking and unacceptable," saying "the safety of civilians must be respected," and appealing to the international community to help evacuate victims by road and air.


Putin says Obama administration trying to undermine Trump's legitimacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday made his first direct denial of reports that Russian intelligence had compromising information on President-elect Donald Trump, accusing the Obama administration of fabricating the story to "undermine the legitimacy" of Trump's presidency. Putin said the people disseminating the report were "worse than prostitutes." He also said that it was hard to believe the opposition research by a former British intelligence agent that Trump had a lurid encounter with prostitutes during a 2013 Moscow trip because as former owner of the Miss Universe pageant, he has socialized with "the most beautiful women in the world." Trump has strongly denied the allegations, calling them "phony stuff."


Fort Lauderdale airport shooting suspect claims ISIS link

Esteban Santiago, who is accused of killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport, claimed he carried out the attack for the Islamic State, an FBI agent said Tuesday at Santiago's bond hearing. Federal authorities in Alaska have said Santiago told them before the attack that the CIA was controlling his mind, and he was hearing voices. After his arrest, he told investigators that he had communicated with ISIS terrorists in "jihadi chat rooms" before flying to Fort Lauderdale and opening fire on travelers with a gun he took from his checked bag. FBI agents are still looking for evidence in his electronic devices to confirm his claims.


ObamaCare popularity up as repeal looms

ObamaCare is more popular than ever as Republicans start the process of repealing it, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday. President-elect Donald Trump, who takes the oath of office Friday, has promised to repeal the law and replace it potentially within the "same hour." The poll, however, found 45 percent of Americans now say the Affordable Care Act is "a good idea," the highest approval level since the poll first asked the question in April 2009. Forty-one percent of Americans say the health care law is "a bad idea." Twenty-six percent of Americans said they had a "great deal" or "quite a bit of confidence" that the GOP would find a suitable replacement, while 50 percent said they had "very little" or no confidence.


Obama heads into final news conference with approval rating up

President Obama is holding his final news conference Wednesday, two days before he leaves office, the White House said. Obama is wrapping up his eight-year presidency with his approval rating at 60 percent, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. That is his highest mark since 2009, putting him near the top in the list of outgoing presidents. He's outranked only by Bill Clinton, who had a 66 percent approval rating in January 2001, and Ronald Reagan, who left office in January 1989 with a 64 percent rating.


Rome metro evacuated after earthquakes

Italian authorities evacuated Rome's metro system and some schools on Wednesday after three earthquakes struck the center of the country. The first temblor had a magnitude of 5.3, and it was centered about four miles from Amatrice, a town that was devastated by several powerful quakes last year. It was followed within an hour by a more powerful 5.7-magnitude quake and another with a magnitude of 5.3. Nearly 300 people were killed in central Italy in August when a strong earthquake and several aftershocks destroyed much of Amatrice's center.


Ex-President George H.W. Bush hospitalized for 'shortness of breath'

Former President George H.W. Bush has been hospitalized after experiencing "shortness of breath," his office confirmed early Wednesday. Bush aides said the 92-year-old 41st president went in as a precaution and was responding to treatment. "He's fine and he's doing really well," Bush chief of staff Jean Becker said. Local media reported that Bush was expected to leave Houston Methodist Hospital in a few days.


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