Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: September 30, 2017

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns, Trump's Hurricane Maria response under fire, and more


Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigns

The White House on Friday announced the resignation of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, who has been caught in controversy since Politico reported extensively on his use of private planes while in office, costing taxpayers more than $1 million. President Trump said this week he was "not happy" with Price and vowed earlier Friday to make a decision on his future "sometime tonight." Price's resignation letter said he regretted that "recent events have created a distraction" from Trump's health-care agenda. Don Wright, formerly acting assistant secretary for health at HHS, is now acting secretary. Most private flights by administration officials must now be approved by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.


Trump's Hurricane Maria response under fire

The Trump administration is under fire for its response to Hurricane Maria, which decimated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on its destructive tear through the Caribbean earlier this month. The Washington Post published a report Friday evening on the impact of President Trump's golfing excursion last weekend, shortly after Maria made landfall, noting that the administration went nearly silent on the subject of the hurricane for four days while the president golfed at his club in New Jersey and tweeted about the NFL. While unnamed administration and Puerto Rican officials told the Post the "communications and collaboration" between federal and local officials "has been unprecedented," they said that has not necessarily "translated into effectiveness on the ground."


Trump attacks mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico

President Trump responded to comments from the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, about the federal response to Hurricane Maria with a series of disparaging tweets Saturday morning. "The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump," he wrote, charging Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz with "poor leadership ability" and adding that Puerto Rican officials "want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort." Trump also alleged the media is intentionally undercutting the resolve of relief workers and announced he will visit Puerto Rico Tuesday.


Tillerson in China ahead of Trump visit

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing Saturday to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of a five-nation tour of Asia President Trump has scheduled for early November. Tillerson said Trump and Xi have built a "very regular and close working relationship." His visit will focus on Chinese adoption of sanctions against North Korea to squash the isolated nation's nuclear ambitions. Trump's November trip to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines will likewise concern the "complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," as well as trade.


Trump to decide on Fed chair within weeks

President Trump indicated Friday he is close to deciding whether to retain or replace Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in her position and will announce his choice in the near future. "I've had four meetings for Fed chairman, and I'll be making a decision over the next two or three weeks," he said on the White House lawn. Yellen, former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, and current Governor Jerome Powell are reportedly among the candidates. Yellen's term expires in February.


U.S. pulls majority of embassy staff from Cuba in response to sonic attacks

The United States is pulling approximately 60 percent of its diplomatic staff from Cuba and ceasing visa processing indefinitely in response to ongoing sonic attacks on American diplomats. U.S. citizens have also been urged against visiting the nation, and the U.S. will stop sending delegations to Havana, though diplomatic meetings will continue in Washington. This decision avoids a full embassy shutdown, an option reportedly considered by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump. The attacks began last fall when U.S. diplomats mysteriously started to lose their hearing; at least 21 people have been injured.


Treasury Department removes key tax report

The Treasury Department has removed from its website a 2012 economic analysis that found the burden of corporate taxes primarily falls on business owners and shareholders, not workers, undermining a key argument by Republicans that their plan to cut taxes on corporate income would primarily help workers. Most mainstream economists broadly agree with the findings of the removed paper. A Treasury representative called the analysis "dated" and not representative of "our current thinking and analysis." The GOP plan would cut the corporate rate to 20 percent and the top personal rate to 35 percent. President Trump would reportedly save more than $1 billion, but one in four households would see their tax burden increase.


False alarm over active shooter at Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, went on lockdown Friday night and early Saturday morning while local law enforcement swept the campus in search of a reported active shooter situation which turned out to be a false alarm. "All clear: The incident has concluded," the school administration tweeted several hours later. "There are no confirmed shots fired & no injuries. Everyone is safe." This comes just a few days after racial slurs were found on five black cadets' doors at the Academy's Preparatory School.


Elon Musk unveils plans to rocket anywhere on Earth in an hour

At the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia, Thursday night, SpaceX chief Elon Musk discussed his plans to land a rocket on Mars as soon as 2022. The date is "aspirational," he acknowledged, but "I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and be ready for launch in about five years." He said two crewed flights could launch in 2024, building the beginning of a human colony. "If you build a ship that's capable of going to Mars," Musk added, playing a concept video, you could "go from one place to another on Earth" in less than an hour, usually within half an hour.


Russell Westbrook signs monster extension with Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook signed a five-year extension with his team Friday, months after the Thunder initially made the monster offer. The final deal is a $205 million extension beginning in the 2018-2019 season. With the renegotiation deal Westbrook signed last summer, it amounts to $233 million over six years — the largest total guaranteed contract in NBA history. Since the Thunder first dangled the deal in July, Oklahoma City has added All-Stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to its roster. Alongside reigning league MVP Westbrook, they are expected to form a formidable trio this coming season.


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