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10 things you need to know today: March 29, 2017

The U.K. formally kicks off the Brexit process, Republicans scrap Obama's internet privacy protections, and more


May signs letter formally launching Brexit process

British Prime Minister Theresa May has signed a letter that was submitted Wednesday to European Union leaders invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, formally starting the process of pulling the United Kingdom out of the 28-nation trading bloc. In a statement to British lawmakers, May said the kickoff of the process was "the moment for the country to come together." Voters decided in a divisive June referendum to leave the EU. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would hold the government accountable "every step of the way," and warned Brexit would be "a national failure of historic proportions" if the government doesn't protect worker rights. Brexit supporters praised the prime minister for sticking to her timetable for starting formal negotiations.


GOP scraps Obama internet privacy rules

The Republican-led House voted Tuesday to roll back landmark internet privacy protections put in place by the Obama administration. In a party-line vote, Republicans removed the limitations imposed last year on what internet service providers, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, can do with data on customers' browsing history, app usage, and other personal information. The Senate has already approved the legislation dropping the protections, which were scheduled to take effect this year, so it now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. After that, internet providers will be able to sell data on users' online activity without their permission.


Perez demands resignation letters from all DNC staffers

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has requested resignation letters from all DNC staffers by April 15, NBC News reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the organization. Some turnover is expected when a new chair takes over, but Perez's house-cleaning suggests he aims for a wholesale reorganization of the party. Perez was elected in late February to replace interim chair Donna Brazile, who filled the position after former chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) stepped down just before the Democratic National Convention last summer. NBC News reported the "top-to-bottom review process" is intended to discern "how the party should be structured in the future," after Republicans won both houses of Congress and the White House last year. The DNC declined to comment.


McConnell vows Gorsuch confirmation coming despite Democrats' opposition

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court next Friday, suggesting that Republicans would use the so-called nuclear option to beat a filibuster by Democrats. The confirmation faces a key procedural vote on Thursday, and leading Democrats say their caucus will stick together to block the process. McConnell then could try to push through a controversial rule change scrapping the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, lowering the number of votes needed for confirmation from 60 to 51. "I hope it doesn't come to that but if the Democrats force our hand, then we'll be prepared to do what we need to do to confirm the judge," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip.


House GOP leaders vow to keep pushing for ObamaCare replacement

House Republican leaders said Tuesday that they had restarted negotiations on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, just days after their first crack at the legislation under President Trump failed. Trump said he was moving on to other priorities, such as tax cuts, after the House GOP leadership, lacking the support it needed to pass the plan, canceled a vote. Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, however, for talks on trying again. "We're not going to retrench into our corners or put up dividing lines," House Speaker Paul Ryan said. "There's too much at stake to get bogged down in all of that."


Scottish Parliament requests new independence referendum

The Scottish Parliament on Tuesday approved a motion to request another referendum on Scottish independence. In 2014, 55 percent of voters in Scotland voted to stay in the U.K., but Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, said last year's decision by U.K. voters to leave the European Union created a "material change in circumstances." A majority of Scottish voters in that referendum wanted to stay in the EU, and Sturgeon said in support of a second independence vote that "Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands." British Prime Minister Theresa May's government promptly denied the Scottish Parliament's request, saying it would be "unfair" to make people vote before they know what the U.K.'s relationship will be with the EU after Brexit. May's government is officially starting the process of leaving the trading bloc on Wednesday.


Australia hammered by Cyclone Debbie

Australia was battered on Tuesday by Cyclone Debbie, a Category 4 storm with wind gusts reaching 163 miles per hour. Debbie hit in Queensland and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes. The storm weakened to a Category 2 within hours as it pushed inland, but authorities warned that its high winds and torrential rains remained dangerous. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Tuesday that he knew of one death blamed on the storm. Emergency crews were still trying to reach the hardest hit areas on Wednesday to assess the damage, but many roads were blocked by debris and fallen trees. "It just looks like a bomb has hit this place," Airlie Beach resident Steve Andrew, 56, said.


Trump signs order undoing Obama climate policies, as expected

President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order seeking to undo Obama administration policies that were intended to address climate change. The White House had announced the move in advance, so it came as no surprise. In the sweeping order, Trump told the Environmental Protection Agency to review the Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. He also lifted a ban on new coal leases on federal lands, which Obama put into place for three years in 2016 so the program could be modernized. Trump said the changes would help revive the coal industry and recover lost jobs. Former Vice President Al Gore, an environmental activist, called Trump's order "a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come."


Trump lawyer tries to block lawsuit

A lawyer for President Trump plans to file briefs seeking to delay a lawsuit filed by a former contestant on The Apprentice by arguing that the Constitution's Supremacy Clause bars people from bringing state lawsuits against a sitting president, according to an article The Hollywood Reporter published Tuesday. Longtime Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz plans to file documents Wednesday in New York's Supreme Court calling for stopping the lawsuit brought by Summer Zervos, who claims that Trump damaged her reputation by denying her accusation that he tried to kiss her twice in 2007, and attacked her in a hotel room. In Paula Jones' sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton, the Supreme Court ruled that a president is not immune from lawsuits, but they should be decided promptly.


Activists charged with felonies for undercover Planned Parenthood videos

Two anti-abortion activists were charged in California on Tuesday with 15 felonies related to undercover videos they made in which they tried to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood officials. California prosecutors said the activists, David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, invaded the privacy of 14 people by filming them without their consent between October 2013 and July 2015. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a former congressional Democrat, said in a statement that the state would "not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations." Daleiden said in an email to The Associated Press that the charges were "bogus" smears made by "Planned Parenthood's political cronies."


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