Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 24, 2017

Bannon tells CPAC crowd Trump will keep his promises, Malaysia says banned VX nerve agent killed Kim Jong Nam, and more


Bannon tells CPAC attendees Trump will keep his promises

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon on Thursday made his first public appearance since taking the post, taking the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to discuss their collaboration in President Trump's West Wing. Bannon urged conservatives to unite behind Trump as he fights to keep his promises and push for the "deconstruction of the administrative state." "We want you to have our back," he said. Bannon also backed up Trump's attacks on the media as the "opposition party," saying clashes between the "corporatist, globalist media" and the administration would only get worse. Trump is scheduled to address CPAC on Friday.


Malaysia says banned VX nerve agent killed Kim Jong Nam

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed using VX nerve agent, Malaysian police said Friday. VX was listed as a banned chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Conventions of 1997 and 2005, but North Korea is not a party to those agreements. South Korea has blamed North Korea for the murder of Kim Jong Nam, who had been critical of hereditary rule in his home country. Pyongyang has angrily denied any involvement, but experts say the use of VX supports the theory that a state was behind the killing, because it takes a sophisticated weapons lab to make VX. Malaysian police have arrested three people in connection with the murder, including one North Korean, and are searching for seven other North Koreans in connection with the case.


Trump says U.S. nuclear arsenal must be 'top of the pack'

President Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that he wants to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure that it is "at the top of the pack." "A dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack," Trump said. Currently, Russia has 7,300 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 6,970, according to the anti-nuclear Ploughshares Fund. The new strategic arms limitation treaty, known as New START, requires both countries to hold their strategic nuclear arsenals at equal levels for 10 years, as of Feb. 5, 2018.


Mexican leaders confront Tillerson over Trump policies

Mexican leaders on Thursday expressed their government's objections about Trump administration policies, such as the proposed border wall and increased deportations of undocumented immigrants, to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said the policies could be "hurtful to Mexicans," and that more talks were needed to "overcome the negative feelings that are prevailing now." Tillerson downplayed the tensions, saying that "two sovereign countries from time to time will have differences." Kelly sought to ease tensions by vowing that there would be "no mass deportations."


Treasury secretary says to expect 'very significant' tax reform by August

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that he hoped Congress would pass "very significant" tax reform by August. In his first TV interview since assuming the post, Mnuchin told CNBC that tax cuts and deregulation would increase economic growth by three percent by the end of 2018. President Trump has promised to unveil his tax plan by early March. "We are committed to pass tax reform, it will be very significant," Mnuchin said. "It's going to be focused on middle income tax cuts, simplification and making the business tax competitive with the rest of the world."


FBI refused Priebus' request to refute Russia reports

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to refute recent news reports that said Donald Trump's advisers were in constant contact with known Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, several White House officials told CNN and The Associated Press on Thursday. Priebus reportedly made the request after the FBI told the White House it believed a New York Times report last week on the alleged contacts, discovered in intercepts by U.S. agencies, was inaccurate, although the FBI rejected the request and had not stated any position on the matter publicly as of Thursday. Democrats accused the White House of violating rules against trying to interfere in an FBI investigation. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the White House "didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth."


Former House Speaker Boehner says GOP will fix, not replace, ObamaCare

Former House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he believed that Republicans would not be able to completely repeal and replace ObamaCare, saying that is "not what's going to happen." Boehner, who retired in 2015 under pressure from hardline conservatives, said Republicans were more likely to fix problems with the existing law, the Affordable Care Act. "They're basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it," he said at an Orlando health care conference. Angry constituents have been peppering Republican lawmakers at town hall meetings in their home districts, saying they feared the GOP would take away their current coverage without an adequate replacement.


Trump meets with manufacturing CEOs on increasing U.S. jobs

President Donald Trump met with 24 CEOs from the country's largest manufacturing companies on Thursday to discuss cutting taxes and regulations, and how to encourage companies to increase jobs in the U.S. instead of moving them abroad. "Everything's going to be based on bringing our jobs back, the good jobs, the real jobs," Trump said during the White House meeting. "I'm delivering on everything that we've said." Trump spoke favorably about a GOP plan to propose an export-boosting border adjustment tax. He said it would boost U.S. jobs, although large retailers such as Walmart and Target oppose it. "All the CEOs are very encouraged by the pro-business policies of President Trump," Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris said after the meeting.


India leader expresses shock over possible Kansas hate crime

India's Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said Friday that she was "shocked" by the fatal shooting of an Indian immigrant engineer by a man who, according to a witness, said, "Get out of my country," before opening fire. The victim, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was having a weekly drink with a friend, Alok Madasani, who was injured in the attack. Another bar regular was injured when he tried to intervene. Adam Purinton, 51, was charged Thursday with one count of premeditated first degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first degree murder. The killing led news reports in India, where critics said the crime suggested President Trump's "America First" policies were fueling intolerance. Federal authorities are investigating the killing as a possible hate crime.


Beyoncé drops out of Coachella, citing advice from doctors

Beyoncé will forgo her planned performance at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, event organizers announced Thursday. The pop star, who announced last month she is expecting twins with husband Jay Z, cited doctors' advice to "keep a less rigorous schedule in coming months" as the basis for the decision. In lieu of leading the Coachella 2017 lineup, Beyoncé will headline the 2018 festival. Her replacement for this year has yet to be announced. Beyoncé has not revealed her due date, but as she was already showing at her performance at the Grammys on Feb. 12, many predicted she might drop out of Coachella. She was slated to headline on both April 15 and April 22 of the two-weekend-long affair in Indio, California.


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