Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 24, 2019

Harold Maass
Trump at a roundtable meeting
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Trump postpones State of the Union until shutdown ends

President Trump tweeted late Wednesday that he would postpone his State of the Union address and deliver it "when the shutdown is over." His announcement came hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent him a letter saying she would not permit a vote on a resolution to let Trump address Congress until the government is re-opened. Pelosi previously urged Trump to delay the speech. Her latest message came shortly after Trump said he was still planning to speak in the House on Jan. 29, saying there was no reason to postpone. Earlier in the partial government shutdown, which has now gone on for nearly five weeks, Pelosi invited Trump to give the speech in late January, but she said "there was no thought that the government would still be shut down." [Donald J. Trump, The Washington Post]


Michael Cohen delays testimony to Congress, claiming 'threats' from Trump

Michael Cohen, President Trump's former attorney, has put off his plan to testify to Congress about Trump next month, due to alleged and unspecified "ongoing threats against his family" from Trump and Trump's current lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Cohen adviser Lanny Davis said Wednesday. Cohen had been scheduled to testify on Feb. 7, a month before he is due to start serving a three-year sentence for financial crimes and for lying to Congress about the Trump Organization's failed negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Under a plea deal, Cohen has been cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's potential involvement with Russian election interference. He had vowed to tell Congress "all he knows" about Trump, but has decided he "had to put his family and their safety first," Davis said. [CNBC, CNN]


Maduro severs ties with U.S. after Trump backs Venezuelan opposition leader

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in a speech to protesters demanding the removal of President Nicolas Maduro. President Trump recognized Guaido as the nation's rightful leader and called for Maduro to step down. Trump pledged to use U.S. financial and diplomatic power to help restore Venezuela's democracy after Maduro insisted on taking a second term despite widespread claims of electoral fraud. Canada, Brazil, Colombia, and several other nations joined the U.S. in backing Guaido. Maduro responded by severing diplomatic relations with the U.S. and giving American diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. [The Associated Press, The New York Times]


Senate rejects GOP plan to reopen government

The Senate on Thursday voted on a Republican bill to end the ongoing partial government shutdown, rejecting it with a vote that fell short of the 60 "ayes" needed to approve the funding bill. The proposal would have reopened affected government agencies and paid 800,000 federal employees who have been furloughed or are working without pay. It included the $5.7 billion President Trump is demanding for his border wall and asylum restrictions. 50 senators voted in favor, while 47 voted against the bill. Senators will vote on a second bill, introduced by Democrats, that would provide three weeks of funding for affected agencies to provide time for negotiations for a long-term deal. That bill is also expected to fail, but lawmakers from both parties are touting the proposals as the start of negotiations toward a solution, with both sides putting what they want on record.


House Democrats launch investigation of White House security clearances

The House Oversight Committee announced Wednesday that it is launching an inquiry into the White House security clearance process. The committee is now led by Democrats, and its chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), sent the White House a letter explaining that the investigation is due to "grave breaches of national security at the highest level of the Trump administration." It's goal, he added, is to "determine why the White House and transition team appear to have disregarded established procedures for safeguarding classified information" and gave security clearances to people "who should not have had access to them." The committee is requesting information on several officials, including Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and former aide Rob Porter. The White House did not immediately comment. [The Guardian, NPR]


Shutdown drags Trump approval rating to lowest in a year

President Trump's approval rating has fallen to a year-long low, with a strong majority of Americans blaming him for the record-long partial government shutdown, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Thirty-four percent of Americans approve of Trump's job performance, down from 42 percent one month earlier. That level is now near the lowest of Trump's presidency. Trump's approval among Republicans remains near 80 percent, but among independents it's near a two-year low. A majority of the survey's respondents reject Trump's rationale for building a wall on the Mexican border. Trump says he will not accept any deal to reopen the government if it doesn't include $5.7 billion to pay for the wall.


Gunman kills 5 at Florida bank

A gunman opened fire in a Sebring, Florida, SunTrust Bank branch on Wednesday, killing at least five people. A man contacted police at about 12:30 p.m., saying he had fired shots inside the building. "After negotiations to try to get the barricaded subject to exit the bank were not successful, the [Highlands County Sheriff's Office] SWAT team entered the bank and continued the negotiations," the sheriff's office said. The suspect later surrendered. Authorities identified him as Zephen Xaver, 21, but did not immediately provide more information. "Today's been a tragic day in our community," Sebring police Chief Karl Hoglund said. "We've suffered a significant loss at the hands of a senseless criminal doing a senseless crime." [Orlando Sentinel, The Washington Post]


House Democrats offer more money for border security, but not the wall

House Democratic leaders said Wednesday they were willing to offer President Trump more money for border security — but not for a border wall — in exchange for reopening the federal government. Democrats said they might even offer as much money as Trump wants for the wall, $5.7 billion, for other border security spending. "We are going to be talking about substantial sums of money to secure our border," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the majority leader. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said $5.7 billion to pay for drones, refitted ports of entry, and other security measures would amount to a "smart wall." The latest measure voted on by the Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday included an additional $1.5 billion for 75 new immigration judges and their staffs, and better infrastructure at ports of entry. [The New York Times]


Trump economist says shutdown could stall economy

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett told CNN on Wednesday that the economy could stall in the first quarter of 2019 if the partial government shutdown doesn't end. "If it extended for the whole quarter, and given the fact that the first quarter [growth rate] tends to be low because of residual seasonality, then you could end up with a number very close to zero in the first quarter," said Hassett, the White House's top economist. President Trump has painted a brighter economic picture, and he has directed his aides to aim for 3 percent to 4 percent growth this year. Other White House officials say economic growth, already projected to be under 2 percent, is falling by 0.1 percent each week the shutdown drags on. The shutdown is now in its fifth week. [The Washington Post]


Phoenix police arrest nurse in rape of incapacitated patient

Arizona police said Wednesday they arrested an employee at Hacienda Healthcare on sexual assault charges after a 29-year-old woman in a vegetative state at the Phoenix facility gave birth. The 36-year-old suspect, Nathan Sutherland, worked as a licensed practical nurse at the facility, and had been responsible for the woman at the time of the rape, which resulted in her pregnancy. Police arrested Sutherland after they obtained his DNA and it matched the baby's. The victim's family said in a statement through their lawyer that she "has significant intellectual disabilities as a result of seizures very early in her childhood." The statement added that she "is a beloved daughter" who "has feelings, likes to be read to, enjoys soft music, and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family." [ABC News]