Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 2, 2017

Trump urges Republicans to "go nuclear" if Dems filibuster Gorsuch, Tillerson is sworn in as secretary of state, and more


Trump tells Republicans to 'go nuclear' if Democrats filibuster Gorsuch

President Trump on Wednesday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "go nuclear" if Democrats follow through on a threat to use a filibuster to block the confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. The message referred to changing Senate rules so Gorsuch's confirmation vote could proceed with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to bypass a filibuster. Republicans have a majority, but just 52 of the chamber's 100 seats. Senate Democrats invoked the so-called nuclear option to confirm former President Barack Obama's lower-court nominees and executive branch nominations, but not for Supreme Court justices, and McConnell has expressed reluctance about removing the barrier.


Tillerson confirmed as secretary of state

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was sworn in as secretary of state on Wednesday after the Senate confirmed him in a 56-to-43 vote, the strongest opposition to a secretary of state nominee in U.S. history. The longtime oil executive faced opposition from Democrats and several influential Republicans, including Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio, over his ties to Russia and lack of government experience. In the end, however, the Republicans and a few Democrats dropped their objections and backed Tillerson, giving him the votes he needed for confirmation. Tillerson will preside over the execution of President Trump's "America first" foreign policy. One of his main outside supporters, former defense secretary Robert Gates, said Tillerson's job had been made harder by Trump's immigration order, which has sparked objections from world leaders.


DeVos confirmation in doubt after two Republicans withhold support

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said Wednesday that they would vote against the confirmation of billionaire school-voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as education secretary, leaving Democrats one defection short of rejecting DeVos, if they all vote against her, as expected. Republicans praise DeVos as a committed reformer dedicated to improving education in the U.S., while Democrats say she has no experience and the policies she favors would undermine public schools. The White House said it still expected DeVos to be confirmed. She would be only the 10th Cabinet nominee in U.S. history to be rejected by Congress.


Republicans suspend rules to push 2 Trump nominees through committee

Senate Republicans suspended committee rules to sidestep a Democratic delaying tactic and advance the nominations of Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of health and human services. Democrats boycotted the hearings to prevent a vote, which requires at least one member of both parties to be present. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suspended his committee's rule to allow the GOP members to sign off on the nominations and send them to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. Democrats also boycotted an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to stall the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.


U.N. leader says Trump immigration order 'violates our basic principles'

The United Nations' new secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said Wednesday that President Trump's executive order temporarily barring entry to the U.S. by citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations "violates our basic principles." Guterres also said that the order is "not the way to best protect the United States." Guterres urged Trump to lift the order "sooner rather than later," and "reestablish its very solid refugee" resettlement program. He also said he hoped Trump would let in Syrian refugees as part of the program. Guterres declined to comment on Trump's threat to reduce U.S. financial support for the U.N.


Israel moves residents out of unauthorized West Bank settlement

Israel on Wednesday started clearing Jewish settlers from a West Bank outpost called Amona. Tensions were high, with protesters throwing rocks at security forces as they executed the long-delayed move, which had been ordered by a court and frayed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow coalition. A spokesman for Amona called the evacuation a "dark day" for the 50 families who lived in the outpost, the largest of about 100 built in the West Bank without government authorization. Yesh Din, an Israeli legal rights group that represented Palestinian landowners in court, said the Palestinians were "waiting to return" after a 20-year struggle to get the land back.


UC Berkeley cancels speech by Breitbart provocateur after violent protest

University of California, Berkeley administrators called off a speech by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, a British writer for Breitbart News, after a violent protest broke out in a campus plaza. About 1,500 people had gathered peacefully outside the student union where Yiannopoulos was supposed to speak two hours later. A small group then smashed some windows, and started a bonfire in the plaza. The incident was the latest in a series of disruptions on campuses where College Republican clubs have invited Yiannopoulos to speak. Yiannopoulos said the violence showed "the Left is absolutely terrified of free speech." His critics say he is the one stirring up trouble with deliberately incendiary racist, misogynist, and anti-Muslim statements. President Trump on Thursday tweeted a threat to strip federal funds from Berkeley if the school "does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view."


Fed leaves interest rates unchanged

Federal Reserve policy makers left interest rates unchanged, as expected, at the end of a two-day meeting on Wednesday. The meeting was the Federal Open Markets Committee's first since President Trump's inauguration. The Fed raised its target benchmark rate by a quarter point in December, just the second increase in more than a decade. Analysts have said the Fed is watching for potential impact from Trump's pro-business policies, as well as uncertainty over other matters, such as immigration and foreign policy. The Fed's post-meeting statement provided no clear indication of when to expect the next rate hike, although policy makers remained upbeat about the economy.


Trump scolds leaders of Australia, Mexico in testy calls

President Trump's phone calls with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last Saturday and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last Friday were more hostile than the official statements indicated, senior U.S. officials have told several news outlets. Trump reportedly complained to Turnbull that an Obama-era deal to accept 1,250 refugees housed by Australia on two islands would amount to sending the U.S. "the next Boston bombers," and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday that Trump was "disappointed" in the deal and thought it was "horrible." Trump abruptly ended what was supposed to be an hour-long call with Turnbull after 25 minutes, though Spicer said Thursday the call was "very cordial." In his call with Peña Nieto, Trump said Mexico was not doing enough to contain "bad hombres." In an official internal readout of the call, written by a White House aide, Trump said: "I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."


Beyoncé reveals she's pregnant with twins

Beyoncé Knowles announced that she and husband Sean Carter, the rapper known as Jay Z, are expecting twins. She shared the news in a post to Instagram with a picture showing her belly. "We are incredibly grateful that our family will be growing by two, and we thank you for your well wishes," Beyoncé wrote. The Carters, who married in 2008, already have one child, 5-year-old daughter Blue Ivy Carter. No word yet on when the twins are due. The singer's Instagram post received 6.4 million likes and over 339,000 comments in less than eight hours, breaking a record set by a photo posted by Selena Gomez that has received 6.3 million likes since last June.


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