Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 17, 2020

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Harold Maass
Senators head to impeachment proceedings
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

1.

Trump's impeachment trial gets underway in Senate

House impeachment prosecutors presented the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate chamber on Thursday, reading the charges aloud. The presentation marked the formal beginning of Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, after the House voted 223-198 on Wednesday to send the articles to the second chamber of Congress. Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-Calif.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Val Demings (D-Fla.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) are the impeachment managers. They will present the evidence against Trump. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts later administered an oath for the senators to deliver "impartial justice" after the arguments begin on Jan. 21. [The New York Times, ABC News]

2.

Watchdog: White House broke law by withholding Ukraine aid

The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House broke the law by withholding congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine. The GAO, a nonpartisan government watchdog, said the White House Office of Management and Budget lacked the authority to freeze the funding, a move central to the House's impeachment case against President Trump. Democrats accuse Trump of delaying the aid as part of an effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democrats, including presidential contender Joe Biden. A president can't "substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the GAO said. White House budget officials disputed the GAO's findings, saying their job is to "ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president's priorities and with the law." [USA Today, GAO]

3.

Ukraine announces investigation into possible surveillance of U.S. ambassador

Ukraine's interior ministry announced Thursday that it had launched an investigation into whether allies of President Trump illegally had then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch under surveillance. The criminal inquiry came after congressional Democrats released text messages exchanged by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, suggesting Yovanovitch was being watched before she was recalled by the Trump administration. Ukraine has become caught in the battle between Democrats and Republicans over the impeachment case against Trump, which centers on his alleged effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democrats. Ukraine also has asked the FBI to help look into suspected hacking by the Russian military of the natural-gas company Burisma, which once employed Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden. [The New York Times, Reuters]

4.

Senate approves new North America trade deal

The Senate on Thursday approved the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal, passing the bill on for final signature by President Trump. The USMCA replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trade pact the three nations have adhered to since 1994. The new deal was passed in an 89-10 vote. Trump, who has pushed for the USMCA, is expected to sign the deal, leaving only Canada to approve the agreement before it takes effect. The House overwhelmingly passed the deal last month after Democrats secured changes to labor enforcement provisions. Trump's signature trade deal has been in the works for more than a year, and seeks to update NAFTA policies that lawmakers say pushed jobs out of the U.S. [NBC News, CNBC]

5.

FBI arrests 3 alleged white supremacists ahead of Virginia rally

The FBI arrested three alleged members of a white supremacist group Thursday on gun and immigration charges ahead of a planned gun-rights rally in Virginia where state authorities are bracing for possible violence. Authorities accused two of the men — Brian Mark Lemley Jr. and William Garfield Bilbrough IV of Maryland — of possessing a machine gun, and helping to smuggle the third suspect, Patrik Jordan Mathews of Canada, into the country. Mathews was charged with gun and immigration violations. Investigators reportedly believe the men were planning to attend the Monday rally in Richmond, Virginia, near the state capitol as the Virginia General Assembly's new Democratic majority introduces proposals for tougher gun control laws. The state's governor, Ralph Northam (D), has declared a state of emergency to head off violence at the rally. [The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post]

6.

14 states sue over rule on food-stamp work requirements

Fourteen states, the District of Columbia, and New York City filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the Agriculture Department's plan to tighten work requirements on food stamp recipients. The suit accuses the USDA of wrongly limiting states' authority to exempt some people from work requirements for longer periods depending on local job opportunities. "Under well-settled law, the executive branch does not get to go forth with policies that Congress specifically rejected," District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said. Congress avoided making broad changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program after a tough partisan battle over the 2018 farm bill, but the Trump administration last year tried to tighten the program, saying it should encourage people to be self-sufficient when the economy is doing well. [Politico]

7.

Trump declares major disaster in Puerto Rico

President Trump on Thursday declared a major disaster in Puerto Rico after a string of earthquakes that have damaged much of the island and left at least one person dead. Puerto Rican officials and several other lawmakers asked the Trump administration for the designation, which is a level above an "emergency" declaration and will authorize further funding and recovery resources. Thursday's action makes federal funding available to six municipalities in Puerto Rico, including grants for temporary housing and repairs, loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other recovery programs for individuals and businesses. Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced requested the declaration last week, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Trump's signature on Thursday. [CBS News, The Hill]

8.

China posts 2019 economic growth weakened by trade war

China reported Friday that its economic growth dropped to 6.1 percent in 2019, a year when a trade war with the U.S. hurt exports. The figure was in line with expectations but marked a significant drop from the 6.6 percent growth in the world's second largest economy in 2018, which was already its lowest since 1990. Economists expect the first phase of a U.S.-China trade deal to end the countries' damaging tit-for-tat tariffs to help improve the picture moving forward. The deal "is a signal that the situation is unlikely to deteriorate," said Chaoping Zhu of J.P. Morgan Asset Management in a report. China's economy also has suffered from weakening domestic consumption as people worried about the trade war and job losses delayed big purchases. [The Associated Press]

9.

Trump vows to protect school prayer after Christian magazine's criticism

President Trump on Thursday announced new rules he said would protect prayer in schools. The proposed guidelines for nine federal agencies clarify that students and parents can report complaints about religious discrimination to state officials, and instruct the agencies to make sure they don't base decisions on grants of federal funds on an applicant's religion. Trump said in an Oval Office ceremony that he was trying to stop the "totalitarian impulse" of the "far-left" to oppose religious expression. "We will not let anyone push God from the public square," Trump said. The move came as Trump appeals for support from evangelical Christians following an editorial in the faith-focused magazine Christianity Today calling for him to be removed from office. [CNN, USA Today]

10.

Evelyn Yang talks about alleged sexual assault by doctor

Evelyn Yang, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, told CNN in an interview broadcast Thursday that she has been inspired by people she met on the campaign trail to go public about being sexually assaulted by her doctor when she was pregnant with her first child. Yang said her OB-GYN, Robert Hadden, abused her in his office, touching her inappropriately in an unnecessary examination after telling her she might need a cesarean section. "I knew it was wrong. I knew I was being assaulted," she said. Yang said she stopped using the practice, but told nobody about what happened until she learned another woman had accused the same doctor of sexual abuse. Now she and 31 other women are suing Hadden and the hospital system. [CNN, The Associated Press]