Daily briefing

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

Christopher Wray confirmed as FBI director, Senate health committee shifts aim to shoring up ObamaCare, and more


Senate overwhelmingly confirms Wray as FBI director

The Senate confirmed Christopher Wray as the new FBI director on Tuesday in a 92-5 vote. Wray replaces James Comey, who was fired by President Trump in May while overseeing the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election. Wray told senators in his confirmation hearings that he would remain independent, and if Trump demanded a pledge of loyalty — as Comey said Trump did of him — Wray said he would refuse. Wray's confirmation came as the Senate Democrats and Republicans work on clearing nominees to numerous vacant posts in the Trump administration before the August recess starts next week.


Senate health committee shifts toward ObamaCare fixes

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday that his panel would start work in September to "stabilize and strengthen the individual insurance market" for next year. The remarks were widely interpreted as an effort to work with Democrats to reach a bipartisan deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act, days after the GOP-led effort to repeal and replace it failed. Alexander also urged President Trump, who is pressuring Republicans to keep working on proposals to scrap ObamaCare, to back away from a suggestion that he would stop paying subsidies to health insurance companies to help low-income people pay out-of-pocket medical expenses, saying "Americans will be hurt" if the cost-sharing reductions are eliminated.


Tillerson to North Korea: 'We are not your enemy'

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday called for dialogue with North Korea, saying that the U.S. wants to convey the message to the combative communist regime that "We are not your enemy." Tillerson, speaking days after Pyongyang tested a missile believed capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland, said the U.S. is not planning to bring down the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or attack it militarily. "We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel," he said. "We are trying to convey to the North Koreans: 'We are not your enemy, we are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond.'"


Kushner says Trump campaign was too disorganized to collude with anybody

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, told a gathering of congressional interns this week that the Trump campaign was too disorganized to collude with Russia in its attempt to influence last year's presidential election. "They thought we colluded, but we couldn't even collude with our local offices," Kushner said. The account was first reported on Foreign Policy on Tuesday. Kushner addressed the interns on Monday as part of a guest speaker program, and his remarks were supposed to be off the record. Kushner also said he didn't closely track his contacts with foreign officials during the campaign because he didn't think he would be starting a career in government.


Lawsuit claims Fox News pushed bogus Seth Rich story to distract from Russia

A lawsuit obtained by NPR claims that Fox News and a supporter of President Trump conjured up a later-retracted story about the July 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to distract from stories about the administration's possible collusion with Russia. Private investigator Rod Wheeler claims in his lawsuit that Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman made up quotes and attributed them to him to give the impression that Rich was killed "mysteriously" after allegedly contacting WikiLeaks. Police said Rich was killed in a botched robbery. Wheeler claims Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Trump supporter, paid him to investigate Rich's death. Jay Wallace, Fox News' president of news, said an internal investigation found no evidence of phony quotes, and that the accusation that Fox News manufactured the story to distract from Russia is "completely erroneous."


Venezuela confirms arrest of two opposition leaders

The Venezuelan government confirmed Tuesday that it was holding opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma at the Ramo Verde military prison. The men, who have been arrested several times before, were taken from their homes in overnight raids, stoking fears of a renewed crackdown on the government's critics. The country's Supreme Court, which is allied with the embattled government of President Nicolas Maduro, accused Lopez and Ledezma of violating their house arrest, saying they were plotting to escape and had released video statements criticizing Maduro. The U.S. this week imposed financial sanctions on Maduro, saying he was acting like a dictator by pushing through a Sunday vote to establish a panel empowered to rewrite the constitution to give him expanded powers.


Trump administration prepares China trade investigation

The Trump administration is getting ready to launch a broad investigation of China's trade practices, The New York Times reports. After the inquiry, the U.S. could impose steep tariffs on Chinese imports or take other action. The move would mark a shift from President Trump's effort to improve cooperation between the U.S. and China. The change comes as the U.S. grows frustrated by China's failure to do more to help get North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile programs, and as the administration tries to respond to China's government-led effort to become a leading supplier of microchips, electric cars, and other cutting-edge technologies.


Law enforcement officials criticize Trump for encouraging 'rough' treatment of suspects

Perry Tarrant, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, on Tuesday criticized President Trump's recent comments discouraging police from being too "nice" to suspects during arrests, saying the remarks could hurt efforts to repair frayed relations between police and some minority communities. "We are not thugs — we are professionals," Tarrant said. Trump last week said police should be a little more "rough" with "thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy." The acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, reacted by firing off a widely distributed email saying Trump's remarks "condoned police misconduct" and were "wrong." White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump's comment "wasn't a directive, it was a joke."


Apple shares hit record high after strong quarterly report

Apple shares jumped by 6 percent in after-hours trading on Tuesday, hitting a record high after the iPhone maker reported stronger-than-expected quarterly earnings and projected a sales boost in the second half of the year. If Apple's gains hold or grow, the stock is expected to help lift the Dow Jones Industrial Average above the 22,000 mark for the first time in history on Wednesday. Apple said iPhone sales increased by 1.6 percent to 41.03 million, beating analysts' average estimate of 40.7 million. Apple also reported surprisingly strong iPad sales, and even the much-maligned Apple Watch showed a sales increase of 50 percent.


Report: DOJ wants to investigate reverse discrimination in college admissions

The Trump administration wants the Justice Department's civil rights division to start investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies considered discriminatory against white applicants, according to an internal announcement about the plan obtained by The New York Times. The announcement suggests the project will be run by political appointees in the division, rather than by the career civil servants who normally handle cases involving schools. The memo says the DOJ is seeking lawyers to ferret out "intentional race-based discrimination," but supporters and critics of the project say it clearly will target admissions policies favoring members of disadvantaged groups, such as blacks and Latinos, over other applicants with comparable grades and test scores.


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