Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 19, 2017

Obama holds his final White House news conference, Trump fills his last Cabinet secretary vacancy, and more

1

Obama defends Manning decision, other late moves in final news conference

President Obama defended some of the last acts of his presidency on Wednesday in his final White House news conference. Obama dismissed criticism that he was sending the wrong message by commuting the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted of giving a mountain of secret documents to WikiLeaks, saying it was the right thing to do because Manning had already served a "tough prison sentence." Obama, the nation's first black president, also disputed critics who say race relations worsened during his presidency, and called claims of voter fraud "fake news," a jab at Republicans who have cited it as justification for voter ID laws that critics say have disproportionately hampered low-income and minority voters. Obama said he was looking forward to quiet time but would continue to speak out whenever the nation's "core values" are threatened.

2

Trump picks Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Sonny Perdue, the Republican former governor of Georgia, to be his agriculture secretary. A formal announcement is expected as early as Thursday. Perdue is filling the last vacancy in Trump's Cabinet. The two-term former governor grew up on a farm, has owned several agribusinesses, and has a doctorate in veterinary medicine, giving him a strong agricultural background. Perdue was one of the first members of Donald Trump's Agricultural Advisory Committee.

3

Trump nominees face questions on ethics

Three of Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees faced sharp questions on Wednesday over ethical issues. Democrats hammered Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) for past stock trades and "sweetheart deals," with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asking how he could push legislation to "help the company that you now own stock in." Price bristled, saying he was "offended by the insinuation." Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Trump's pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, has been grilled for his failure to pay more than $15,000 in employment taxes for a household employee. Commerce Department nominee Wilbur Ross revealed that he had hired a housekeeper who was an undocumented immigrant.

4

Russia extends Snowden's residency permit

Russia on Wednesday extended former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's residency permit until 2020, when he would be eligible to apply for residency. Snowden is under indictment in the U.S. for leaking secret documents with evidence of the NSA's bulk data collection program. He fled the U.S. and has been living in Russia, which granted him asylum, since 2013. Human rights groups have asked President Obama to pardon Snowden before leaving office on Friday, noting that his leaks led to reforms.

5

Theresa May says U.K. will remain 'world leader' after Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the U.K. would continue to be a "world leader" on trade after its exit from the European Union. May's speech to business leaders and politicians came after EU leaders said a post-Brexit trade deal would be "difficult" for Britain and the EU. May also warned that leaders need to address "division and despair" being caused as inequality increases under globalization. "Talk of greater globalization can make people fearful," she said. "For many it means their jobs outsourced and their wages undercut. It means having to sit back as they watch their communities change around them."

6

Dozens of Iranian firefighters die as burning high-rise falls

Tehran's iconic Plasco building collapsed on Thursday after being engulfed in a fire, killing 30 firefighters, state-run Press TV reported. The 17-story structure, which was the tallest building in the Iranian capital when it was built in the 1960s, is attached to a shopping mall near the city's sprawling bazaar. The building's occupants had been evacuated, but there were 200 firefighters on the scene when the building fell. "It was like a horror movie," a grocery store owner said.

7

Avalanche buries Italian hotel, dozens missing

An avalanche buried the mountainside Hotel Rigopiano in central Italy after a series of four earthquakes struck the region on Wednesday. Authorities said Thursday that up to 30 people remained missing. At least one person was reportedly killed, although more deaths are feared. Heavy snow on roads hampered rescue efforts. The first emergency crews had to travel more than five miles on skis and snowshoes to reach the posh resort. Authorities in Rome, 100 miles to the southwest, closed subway stations and some schools as a precaution after the quakes.

8

Netflix smashes expectations for new customers

Netflix reported Wednesday that it had added a record 7.05 million new customers in the fourth quarter, beating analysts' expectations. The company signed up 5.12 million new customers abroad, smashing predictions of 3.78 million, and 1.93 million in the U.S., beating expectations of 1.38 million. The streaming video service's stock jumped to a record high on the news.

9

2016 sets record for hottest year in the books

Last year was the hottest ever recorded, the third straight year of record high global temperatures, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday. Government scientists say man-made global warming is mostly to blame, with a boost from El Nino, a natural phenomenon. The average global temperature in 2016 was 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit, 0.07 degrees higher than 2015. Records have been kept since 1880, and the planet has hit record highs in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010, and 2005.

10

Former President George H.W. Bush admitted to intensive care

Former President George H.W. Bush was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital intensive care unit on Wednesday. Bush, 92, initially entered the hospital earlier in the day due to shortness of breath. Doctors moved him to the ICU "to address an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia," his spokesman said in a statement. His wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, was also admitted to the hospital "as a precaution after experiencing fatigue and coughing," the statement said. Bush is reportedly "stable" and will remain in the ICU for observation.

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