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10 things you need to know today: January 23, 2017

Trump team clashes with media over "alternative facts," Trump to begin renegotiating NAFTA, and more


Trump team clashes with media in 'rocky' first weekend

The Trump administration clashed with the media for a second day on Sunday over the size of the crowd at President Trump's inauguration, as Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's claim that Trump had drawn "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period." Chuck Todd, host of NBC's Meet the Press, asked why Trump would have Spicer make a false claim. "You're saying it's a falsehood," Conway said, but actually Spicer simply "gave alternative facts." Todd replied: "Wait, 'alternative facts'? Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods." Trump allies and aides said they hoped to move on after a "rocky" first weekend.


Trump to start renegotiating NAFTA with Mexico and Canada

President Trump said Sunday that he had scheduled meetings with the leaders of Mexico and Canada to start renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump promised during his campaign that he would rework the 23-year-old trade pact to get the U.S. a better deal. He said his talks with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would focus "on NAFTA, on immigration, on security at the border." Former President Barack Obama, who also criticized NAFTA as a candidate, sought to impose Democratic-favored labor and environmental rules through the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which included Canada and Mexico. Trump has vowed to scrap the TPP.


Lawyers filing suit saying foreign payments to Trump violate Constitution

A group of constitutional scholars and ethics lawyers plans to file a lawsuit on Monday accusing President Trump of violating the U.S. Constitution by letting his hotels and other businesses take payments from foreign governments. Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers behind the suit, said that the Constitution's Emoluments Clause covers payments to Trump's hotels, and loans for his buildings from banks controlled by foreign governments. The framers of the Constitution "understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders," Gupta said. Trump's lawyers said the clause doesn't apply to a fair-market payment, such as a hotel bill, and Eric Trump, the president's son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said the lawsuit was "purely harassment for political gain."


Death toll from Southern storms rises to 18

The death toll from weekend storms that tore across the South rose to at least 18 on Sunday. Fourteen people were killed in Georgia, including three who died in Dougherty County when a tornado caused widespread destruction. Storms hit from northern Florida to South Carolina, and west to Mississippi. Severe thunderstorms in Florida's panhandle resulted in a tornado watch in 30 counties in north and central Florida on Sunday night.


Syrian peace talks begin in Kazakhstan

Representatives of Syria's government and rebel factions started fresh peace talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, on Monday. The negotiations are brokered by Russia and Iran, which support Syria's government, and Turkey, which backs some of the rebel groups. The talks, which opposition groups said would not involve direct discussion between rebels and the government, are intended to build on a shaky ceasefire that took effect last month. The U.S. is not directly participating because of the "immediate demands of the transition," but the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, George Krol, is attending. If the talks succeed, more political talks are expected in February.


Trump won't release tax returns, Conway says

President Trump does not plan to release his tax returns, his senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, said Sunday. Trump was pressed for his returns during the campaign, and said he would release them after an Internal Revenue Service audit was completed. He has since said his victory indicated that Americans were not concerned about his taxes, an argument Conway echoed. "We litigated this all through the election," she said. In a Pew Research Center poll this month, 60 percent of respondents, including 38 percent of Republicans, said Trump should release his tax returns.


McCain and Graham say they will support Tillerson nomination

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that they would support the confirmation of President Trump's pick for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson. "After careful consideration, and much discussion with Mr. Tillerson, we have decided to support his nomination to be secretary of state," they wrote in a statement. "Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests." The senior senators' support is expected to help propel Tillerson through his Senate confirmation and may also allow Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has been critical of Tillerson, to vote no without scuttling a nominee for a president from his party.


Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura dies in Dominican Republic crash

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed Sunday in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25. Ventura pitched for the Royals in two World Series, in 2014 and 2015. The team's general manager, Dayton Moore, said Ventura was "so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberence." His death came on the same day that former Major League infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car crash in the Dominican Republic, and just four months after another gifted young pitcher, the Miami Marlins' Jose Fernandez, was killed in a boating accident.


Samsung blames faulty batteries for Galaxy Note 7 debacle

Samsung Electronics said Monday that its internal investigation determined that faulty batteries caused its flagship Galaxy Note 7 phones to catch fire. The defects forced Samsung to cancel the production and sale of the phones, its main competitor for Apple's iPhones. The setback cost the South Korean tech giant $5.3 billion in operating profit, but the company said it would take steps to eliminate the possibility that the problem would happen in future devices, including the S8 due out in April or May. Samsung's earnings are due Tuesday.


Patriots and Falcons advance to Super Bowl

The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons won their respective NFL conference championships on Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl. The Patriots' offense, led by quarterback Tom Brady, sealed their 36-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers with three touchdown passes. The Falcons crushed the Green Bay Packers 44-21. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan passed for 392 yards and 4 TDs, and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season, helping to earn his team the second Super Bowl appearance in its 51-year history.


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