Daily briefing

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

Rock legend Chuck Berry dies at 90, Rex Tillerson and Xi Jinping promote cordial U.S.-China relations, and more


Rock legend Chuck Berry dies at 90

Rock 'n' roll pioneer Chuck Berry died Saturday at his home in Missouri after lifesaving measures were unsuccessful, local police reported. He was 90 years old. Dubbed "the Shakespeare of rock 'n' roll" by Bob Dylan and the "alpha and omega of rock and roll" by former Rolling Stone editor Joe Levy, Berry ranks as perhaps the genre's most influential trailblazer, a skilled songwriter and guitarist remembered for hits like "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Sweet Little Sixteen." A black performer who came to fame during the Jim Crow era, Berry's groundbreaking music was popular across racial lines. "He lit up our teenage years, and blew life into our dreams of being musicians and performers," said the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger in response to Berry's death. "His lyrics shone above others and threw a strange light on the American dream." A new album, Berry's first in decades, is due in June.


Rex Tillerson and Xi Jinping promote cordial U.S.-China relations

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday held an apparently cordial meeting, emphasizing friendly relations between China and America. "You said that China-U.S. relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this," Xi said to Tillerson. "The joint interests of China and the United States far outweigh the differences, and cooperation is the only correct choice for us both." The meeting in Beijing is the final stop of Tillerson's diplomatic tour through Asia, and its amicable tone stood in noted contrast to President Trump's Friday Twitter allegation that China "has done little to help" America deal with provocation from North Korea. Tillerson and Xi did not publicly address North Korea on Sunday even as Pyongyang tested a new rocket engine.


North Korea tests new rocket engine

North Korea successfully conducted a "high-thrust engine test" of "historic significance," the totalitarian nation's state media reported Sunday. The new engine will be a "great leap forward" for Pyongyang's missile ambitions, the report said, noting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claimed the world will "soon witness what eventful significance the great victory won today carries." Pyongyang's announcement was timed to coincide with the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Sunday. China is North Korea's only major ally, but neither man mentioned the test publicly.


Homeland Security requests proposals for Trump's border wall

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday evening released a request for prototype proposals for the planned U.S.-Mexico border wall, revealing further details of the Trump administration's goals. The contract notices describe a "physically imposing wall" made of reinforced concrete and standing as tall as 30 feet. One document emphasizes the wall should look "good from the north side," while being "difficult to climb or cut through." Congressional Republicans have estimated the wall will cost as much as $15 billion.


Germany rejects Trump Twitter claim it owes 'vast sums' to NATO

President Trump tweeted Saturday morning that Germany "owes vast sums of money to NATO," a post that came a day after his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during which Trump said he stressed the importance of NATO allies paying their "fair share," a reference to the alliance's requirement that members spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. Germany pushed back on the allegation Sunday. "There is no debt account at NATO," German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement, noting that German military "spending also goes into U.N. peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against [Islamic State] terrorism."


Driver in custody after reportedly claiming to have a bomb near the White House

A man was detained by the Secret Service late Saturday night after approaching a White House gate in a "suspicious" vehicle and, per CNN's report, claiming to have a bomb. No bomb has been discovered, and President Trump was not in the White House at the time of the incident. This comes after a different man was detained for jumping a pedestrian barrier near the White House earlier on Saturday, and a week after a man was arrested inside White House grounds having scaled the fence of the property.


Kellyanne Conway's husband reportedly tapped for key DOJ post

George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, has reportedly been picked to lead the Justice Department's civil division, a prominent role that would see him responsible for defending President Trump's immigration executive order in court. George Conway is a corporate lawyer with financial litigation expertise. He is a partner at his firm and has argued before the Supreme Court. Conway was previously reported to be under consideration for the role of U.S. solicitor general. The DOJ has yet to confirm reports of his selection for this civil role.


Tax reform coming in 'late spring to summer,' Spicer says

Expect the Trump administration's tax reform plan a little later this year, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told Ireland's Independent in an interview published in the paper's Sunday edition. "We are going to have tax reform after we get health care completed," Spicer said. "I think we are looking at late spring to summer." Trump is expected to propose three simplified tax brackets and a higher standard deduction. Critics argue his proposal will mostly help the very wealthiest Americans, like Trump himself.


Iraqi forces close on strategic mosque in Mosul fight

U.S.-supported Iraqi forces on Sunday are closing in on a strategic building, the al-Nuri Mosque, as they continue the fight to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. The eastern half of the city, which is the last major ISIS stronghold in Iraq, has already been liberated; ISIS terrorists in the western half control a shrinking territory. The mosque is important because it is where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014. An estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in Mosul after a six-month siege by Iraqi troops.


Top seed Villanova ousted by Wisconsin in upset game

The Villanova Wildcats, the No. 1 team in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, unexpectedly lost to the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers 65-62 in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday. The upset win means Wisconsin will now advance to its fourth consecutive Sweet 16 round. For March Madness brackets, the game meant widespread chaos, as 47 percent of brackets had Villanova in the final four; 31 percent put the team in the championship game; and 18 percent said Villanova would be the tournament victor. As CBS Sports tweeted, "Uhhh...nobody saw this coming."


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