Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 18, 2018

Republicans scramble as divisions threaten their plan to avert a shutdown, the two Koreas agree to march under one flag in Olympics, and more

1

Divisions threaten stopgap spending package as shutdown deadline nears

Bitter divisions on Wednesday threatened to derail a GOP stopgap spending proposal aiming to avert a government shutdown. Republicans scrambled to muster enough votes to pass it as some conservatives threatened to sink it in the House, complaining it doesn't include enough defense spending. Democrats are demanding that it include protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Republicans need nine Democrats to pass it in the Senate. The continuing resolution would finance the government at current levels through Feb. 16, delay several ObamaCare-related taxes for a year or two, and finance the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. The current short-term spending package expires at midnight Friday.

2

North and South Korea to march under one flag in Olympics ceremony

North and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to march together under a unified flag at the opening ceremony of February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The two Koreas also will form a combined women's ice hockey team to play in the Games, according to a joint statement released by Seoul's unification ministry. North Korea will send a 550-member delegation, including 230 cheerleaders, artists, and athletes. The diplomatic gestures received mixed reviews in Washington. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said South Korea was "undercutting" President Trump's efforts to step up international pressure on North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program.

3

Dow closes above 26,000 for first time

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped by 323 points or 1.3 percent on Wednesday to close above 26,000, marking a historic first for the blue-chip index. The Dow pierced the 26,000-point threshold for the first time on Tuesday before giving back its gains and closing just below it. The other major equity indexes, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite, also closed at record highs. The Dow's gains were spurred by quarterly results from some of the biggest U.S. companies that exceeded Wall Street's expectations. "You've got a bullish start to the earnings season and earnings are expected to be strong for 2018," said Adam Sarhan, CEO of 50 Park Investments. U.S. stock futures were flat early Thursday.

4

U.N. agency pleads for support as U.S. withholds half of Palestinian aid

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency on Wednesday made an urgent appeal for support for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The message came a day after the State Department announced that the Trump administration was holding back half of its annual $125 million aid package. "After decades of generous support, dramatic reduction of US funding to @UNRWA results in most critical financial situation in history of Agency," the agency's commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl, tweeted. "I call on member states of the United Nations to take a stand & demonstrate to Palestine Refugees that their rights & future matter." The U.S. move came after President Trump this month tweeted that it made no sense for the U.S. to send so much aid if Palestinians were "no longer to talk peace."

5

Apple to take advantage of tax break to repatriate overseas cash

Apple on Wednesday revealed plans to bring back most of the $252 billion in cash it has been holding overseas. The company is taking advantage of a one-time tax break offered under the Republican tax overhaul signed into law last month by President Trump. Apple said it would pay $38 billion in taxes, and use some of the repatriated cash to create 20,000 jobs, build a new domestic campus, and make other investments. "I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States," Trump tweeted. "Great to see Apple follow through as a result of TAX CUTS."

6

Trump releases 'Fake News Awards'

President Trump released a list of winners in his long-promised "Fake News Awards" via Twitter on Wednesday. Trump, who famously questioned former President Barack Obama's birthplace without evidence, provided a link to a website singling out several journalists for news reports, some of which resulted in corrections, as well as all "coverage of the Russia investigation." The "winners" included four nods to CNN, two to The New York Times, and one each to The Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek. Outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) criticized Trump from the Senate floor for once calling the "Fake News media" the "enemy of the American people." "It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies," Flake said.

7

Democrats' gains in special elections set off GOP alarms

Republicans won three of four special elections in GOP strongholds this week, but the surprise loss in a special statehouse election in Wisconsin triggered alarm among Republicans ahead of this year's mid-term elections. The Republicans in all of the races underperformed compared to President Trump's numbers in their districts last year, and Wisconsin Democrat Patty Schachtner won by 11 percentage points, a 28-point swing compared to Trump's 2016 performance. On Thursday, President Trump heads to Pennsylvania to boost Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, who is in a tight race against Democrat Conor Lamb ahead of a March 13 election to fill a seat Republicans held easily for 16 years until former Rep. Tim Murphy (R) was forced out after a sex and abortion scandal.

8

Trump administration drops Haiti from visa program for low-skilled workers

The Trump administration said Wednesday that it was removing Haitians from a list of more than 80 countries whose citizens are eligible for U.S. visas given to low-skilled workers. The Department of Homeland Security announced the move days after President Trump questioned in a White House meeting why the U.S. took in immigrants from Haiti and African nations, reportedly calling them "shithole" countries. DHS said it was taking Haiti off the list because of "high levels of fraud and abuse," including people who overstayed their visas. Supporters said the decision would deny a valuable lifeline to a small number of Haitians, although only about four dozen received the visas annually in the last two years. Belize and Samoa also were removed from the list.

9

U.S. image abroad drops after Trump's first year

After a year of President Trump's "America First" foreign policy, the image of American leadership has dropped to a new low, according to the Gallup World Poll report. America's median leadership approval rating across 134 countries in 2017 was 30 percent, 4 points below the previous 2008 low and 18 points lower than the 48 percent approval in 2016 before former President Barack Obama left office. Disapproval of U.S. leadership also hit a new high, 43 percent. Views of American leadership actually rose by more than 10 percentage points in four countries — Liberia, Macedonia, Israel, and Belarus — but fell by more than 10 points in 65 nations. Germany is viewed favorably by 41 percent, China by 31 percent, and Russia by 27 percent.

10

South hit with deadly freeze

A winter blast with record cold and snow that has been blamed for killing at least 10 people hammered much of the South on Wednesday. Four people died in Louisiana, including a baby who died in a car that plunged into a canal. Atlanta got more than an inch of snow and eight inches fell in parts of central and western North Carolina, forcing the cancellation of classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Temperatures fell to record lows in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. New Orleans got a low of 21 degrees, breaking the city's record of 23 degrees, set in 1977.

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