Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 17, 2019

Harold Maass
Nancy Pelosi at the House chamber
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Pelosi urges Trump to delay State of the Union due to shutdown

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday urged President Trump to delay his Jan. 29 State of the Union address, citing security constraints linked to the partial government shutdown that enters its 27th day on Thursday. "Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government reopens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has reopened," Pelosi said. She said Trump also could consider delivering the address to Congress in writing. Pelosi's proposal demonstrated the new dynamic now that Democrats have taken control of the House and have newfound power to frustrate Trump's agenda. Republicans accused Pelosi of playing politics to obstruct Trump. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said authorities "are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union." [The New York Times, The Associated Press]


ISIS-claimed suicide bombing kills 4 Americans in Syria

A suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State killed four Americans and at least 10 others at a restaurant in the northern Syria city of Manbij on Wednesday. It was the deadliest attack against Americans in the country since U.S. forces were deployed to fight the Islamic State there in 2015. The dead included two U.S. service members, a civilian Pentagon employee, and an American contractor who were meeting with local military officials at the restaurant during a routine patrol. Three other U.S. service members were among those injured. The attack came as the U.S. begins its withdrawal of 2,000 service members in Syria, which President Trump announced last month, claiming ISIS had been defeated. [The Washington Post, BBC News]


Theresa May survives no-confidence vote after Brexit setback

British Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived a no-confidence vote called by opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday, a day after the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected her plan for Britain's exit from the European Union. It was the second attempt to oust May as prime minister in five weeks. Tuesday's rejection of May's plans left Brexit in chaos with just over two months to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the European trading bloc. "We have a responsibility to identify a way forward that can secure the backing of the House," May told Parliament. "I have proposed a series of meetings between senior parliamentarians and representatives of the government over the coming days." [NBC News]


Michigan State leader resigns under fire over comments on abuse victims

Interim Michigan State University President John Engler, a former Republican governor, announced his resignation in a letter Wednesday after facing a backlash over comments he made about women who were sexually abused by former university sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar. Engler is the second school leader in a year to step down under pressure due to the scandal. During his controversial year-long tenure, Engler made changes intended to strengthen the school and prevent abuse, although his appointment escalated tensions with people who felt betrayed by the university and wanted more reform-minded leadership. Critics said Engler treated Nassar's victims like the enemy, and calls for his departure mounted recently after he told the editorial board of The Detroit News last week that some of Nassar's victims are "enjoying" the spotlight. [The Washington Post]


Watchdog says government ignored Trump emoluments clause concerns

A government watchdog said Wednesday that the agency that controls federal property failed to determine whether President Trump's lease of the Old Post Office Building for the Trump International Hotel in Washington violated the Constitution's anti-corruption emoluments clause. Lawyers for the General Services Administration, which leased Trump the building in 2013, recognized that Trump's business interests raised constitutional concerns that could amount to a breach of the lease, but chose to leave the matter "under a constitutional cloud," said Carol Ochoa, the agency's inspector general. Watchdog groups say Trump has improperly benefited from foreign governments that use the hotel. Trump lawyers say a clause in the lease barring any elected official from benefitting from it doesn't apply because the lease was signed before Trump was elected. [NBC News, NPR]


Death toll rises to 21 in Nairobi terrorist attack

The death toll from an attack by Islamist extremists on a Nairobi luxury hotel and shopping complex rose to 21 on Wednesday, police in the Kenyan capital said. Five militants believed to be members of al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group based in neighboring Somalia, also were killed by security forces dispatched to end the siege. The toll at the DusitD2 complex went up when authorities found six more bodies, and a wounded police officer died. The dead included one American. Police arrested two suspects believed to have facilitated the attack. "We will seek out every person that was involved in the funding, planning, and execution of this heinous act," President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a televised address. [CNN, The Associated Press]


Pentagon reportedly developing plan to scrutinize recruits with foreign ties

The Pentagon is finalizing a policy to closely examine recruits who have green cards or other foreign ties, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing two Defense Department officials with knowledge of the matter. The initiative would likely target thousands of people every year. Last year, a federal judge blocked a similar effort to target green-card holders. The Pentagon is concerned about espionage and terrorism. The new screening for "foreign nexus" risks could include people with foreign citizenship and those with family members who are not U.S. citizens. Some U.S. citizens could also be targeted, including those with foreign spouses or relatives with dual citizenship. Those screened would not be allowed to go to recruit training until cleared. [The Washington Post]


Barr, Wheeler confirmation hearings wrap up

The Senate confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee William Barr and EPA administrator nominee Andrew Wheeler concluded Wednesday. In Barr's two-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Democrats expressed skepticism that he would protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and release the full report to the public. Barr committed to protecting Mueller but not to sharing all of the report. The committee now has until Jan. 22 to submit any written questions before scheduling a vote to send Barr for a full Senate vote. Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee pressed Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to acknowledge climate change. Republicans praised his leadership as acting head of the EPA. A vote on his confirmation has not been scheduled. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]


Trump administration to release plan to boost space-based missile defense

The Trump administration is expected to unveil a new strategy for a more aggressive space-based missile defense system during President Trump's visit to the Pentagon on Thursday. The administration's new Missile Defense Review, which is the first one completed since 2010, reportedly concludes that to adequately protect the nation against threats from North Korea and Iran, as well as from advanced weapon systems being developed by Russia and China, the Pentagon will have to expand defense capabilities in space to more quickly detect, track, and take out incoming missiles. Congress ordered the review. The Trump administration's plan to expand American missile defenses is on a scale not seen since President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]


Vanguard founder and index-fund pioneer John Bogle dies at 89

John Bogle, the index fund pioneer who founded the Vanguard Group, died Wednesday. He was 89. Although Bogle did not invent the index fund, he gave ordinary investors access to the low-cost investments in 1976 with Vanguard's first index fund offered to individual investors, rather than just institutional ones. Vanguard has led the way in popularizing the funds, which passively track market indexes such as the Standard & Poor's 500 and avoid the higher fees charged by professional fund managers who rarely beat the indexes over time. Bogle served as Vanguard’s chairman and CEO from its founding in 1974 until 1996, then stepped down as senior chairman in 2000. [The Associated Press]