Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 20, 2019

The Week Staff
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates
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1.

Mexico becomes first country to sign USMCA trade agreement

Mexico approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement on Wednesday, ratifying the agreement with a 114-4 majority and becoming the first country to give its stamp of approval. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was a proponent of the deal, essentially ensuring its passage in a Senate held by his party. The deal, which is an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, must now gain approval from U.S. and Canadian lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has yet to set a date to vote on the pact, and Democrats have said they want to see some changes in the agreement's labor and environmental rules. Canada isn't opposed to the agreement, but Canadian officials have said they are following U.S. pacing on ratification. [Politico, The Washington Post]

2.

U.S. House considers reparations committee

The House Judiciary Committee held a meeting on Wednesday to consider creating a commission to explore reparations for black Americans affected by slavery. The hearing, which addresses legislation first introduced 30 years ago, was attended by hundreds of mainly black spectators, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), actor Danny Glover, and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. If passed, HR 40 would examine proposals to aid descendants of former slaves. Nearly 60 House Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), support the bill. The bill would authorize $12 million for a 13-member commission comprised of presidential appointees, members of Congress, and criminal justice advocates. [The New York Times]

3.

Biden refuses to apologize for comments on segregationist senators

Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden refused to apologize on Wednesday for highlighting his working relationship with two segregationist senators in order to make the case for bipartisan civility. Biden said the Senate "got things done" with "civility" when he was working with former Democratic Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, both noted segregationists. Fellow 2020 candidates Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) both criticized Biden's remarks, with Booker saying Biden was "wrong" to invoke the comparison and calling on him to apologize. Biden refused and said Booker should "know better" than to question his commitment to civil rights: "There's not a racist bone in my body." Harris said Biden was "coddling" segregationists and "that he doesn't understand ... the dark history of our country." [The Associated Press]

4.

FBI testing minibar samples as part of probe into Dominican Republic deaths

The FBI is testing samples taken from a minibar at a hotel in the Dominican Republic where Americans stayed. The tests are part of an investigation into nine American tourists who have died over the last 13 months after visiting the Caribbean nation. Dominican officials have labeled the deaths isolated incidents, but the number of cases has raised alarm bells for many potential tourists. The most recent victim, 55-year-old Joseph Allen, had reportedly just been given a bill of good health when he died at a Dominican resort. Allen's brother, Jason, said his family wants to pursue American testing if Dominican authorities do not supply adequate answers. [CNN]

5.

Iran shoots down U.S. drone

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday, with both parties in dispute over the circumstances of the incident. Iranian officials say the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace, while U.S. officials claim it was in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. The drone incident comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman last week, prompting the U.S. to place blame on Iran. Iran denies responsibility for the oil tanker attacks. In Thursday's scuffle, U.S. officials said Iranians fired a surface-to-air missile striking the American drone. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Gen. Hossein Salami called the incident a violation of "our national security border," adding that "any enemy that violates the borders will be annihilated." [TIME]

6.

U.N. investigator finds Saudi Arabia legally responsible for Khashoggi killing

In a United Nations report released Wednesday, U.N. special investigator Agnes Callamard implicated Saudi Arabia in the "deliberate, premeditated" execution of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Callamard called the killing extrajudicial, and said Saudi authorities had destroyed evidence related to Khashoggi's death. While she did not find any "smoking gun" directly implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the killing, she said he would likely have knowledge of an operation of this scale. "Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources, and finances," she wrote. Callamard also gave a gruesome explanation of Khashoggi's death, outlining in detail his sedation, suffocation, and dismemberment. [The Washington Post, CNN]

7.

Democrats unhappy with Hope Hicks' limited testimony to House committee

Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks gave a closed-door testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but information-seeking Democrats are frustrated over the White House counsel's interference in her statements. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called the meeting a "farce," and several committee members said Hicks wouldn't answer questions as simple as where she sat in the White House. "She made clear she wouldn't answer a single question about her time unless the White House counsel told her it was okay," Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said. A public transcript of the testimony is expected to be released within 48 hours. [Politico]

8.

EPA eases restrictions on coal in repeal of Obama-era climate laws

The Trump administration made good on its promise to try and save the coal industry on Wednesday, easing previously-instituted restrictions on coal miners established by former President Barack Obama. The EPA gave states more leeway in deciding whether plants need to make limited efficiency upgrades, and officials are hoping the rule change provides a boon to the coal industry, which suffered near-record numbers of plant closings last year. A previous EPA investigation, however, showed the rule change would result in an additional 300 to 1,500 pollution-related deaths each year by 2030. "I can't think of a single rule that would do more to set back the effort to do what we need to do to address the critical threat of climate change," said Harvard University Environmental Law Program's Joseph Goffman, who helped draft the repealed Clean Power Plan. [The Associated Press]

9.

YouTube considers moving all kid's content onto separate platform

YouTube executives are considering moving all of the video giant's children's content to a separate place. YouTube Kids is an already-existing standalone app that aims "to better protect young viewers from objectionable videos." But following criticism saying the site is not safe for children, YouTube is considering taking its current divisions a step further. The company has also discussed eliminating auto-play after children's videos, which could help limit the amount of unintended inappropriate content kids are shown. YouTube has also reportedly recently tested the idea of hand-picking each video that appears on YouTube Kids in order to better filter out inappropriate content. [The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg]

10.

Janet Mock makes history with Netflix deal

Janet Mock, a director, writer, and producer for FX's hit television series Pose, made history on Wednesday by signing a three-year multimillion-dollar contract with Netflix, likely becoming the first openly transgender woman in a position of creative power at a major content company. The deal will allow Mock to continue working on Pose while also working on television and film projects for the streaming giant. "There's potential now, with Netflix's worldwide audience, to introduce millions, hundreds of millions of viewers to trans people and showing people who may not understand us that we can tell our own stories," Mock said. Mock's current projects in development include a drama series about post-slavery New Orleans, a college drama chronicling the life of a young trans woman, and a classic sitcom reboot. [Variety]