U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 4, 2017

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THE WEEK

1. Russia subway explosion kills 14
An explosion killed 14 people on a subway in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Monday. More than 40 other people were injured. The blast, which occurred while President Vladimir Putin was in the city, blew a hole in the side of a car as it traveled between two stations in the heart of the city, Russia’s second largest. Investigators were treating the incident as a possible terrorist attack. A separate shrapnel-filled explosive device was found and disarmed at a subway station, suggesting the possibility of a coordinated attack. Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan said Tuesday that one suspect was a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen.

Source: The Washington Post, The Associated Press

2. UNC beats Gonzaga to win NCAA championship
North Carolina held off Gonzaga to win the men’s NCAA basketball championship on Monday night. The Tar Heels sealed the 71-65 victory with a 9-2 closing stretch to bounce back from last year’s title game, which UNC lost on a buzzer-beating shot by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins. It was UNC’s sixth national championship, ranking them third all-time behind UCLA and Kentucky. Gonzaga, a small Jesuit school outside Spokane, Washington, was playing for its first title. The Bulldogs’ Nigel Williams-Goss scored eight straight points to put Gonzaga up 65-63 with less than two minutes left in the game, before UNC went on its final tear. “It was an ugly game,” said North Carolina Coach Roy Williams after taking his third national title with the Tar Heels. “I don’t think either team played well offensively. The magnitude of the game had a lot to do with it.”

Source: The New York Times

3. Split Senate panel sends Gorsuch nomination to full Senate
A divided Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday voted along party lines to recommend the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The 11-9 vote, with Republicans backing Gorsuch and Democrats opposing him, sends Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate for three days of debate. Democrats, however, said they had lined up enough support to block a final confirmation vote with a filibuster, which the 52-seat GOP majority would need 60 votes to defeat. Leading Republican senators said if the filibuster holds, they will resort to the so-called nuclear option, and change Senate rules to allow the Senate leadership to end debate with the approval of a simple 51-seat majority and hold the confirmation, probably on Friday.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

4. Trump praises Egyptian strongman for ‘fantastic job’
President Trump praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after the two met at the White House on Monday, reversing U.S. posture toward the autocratic former military leader who seized power nearly four years ago. Under former President Barack Obama, Sisi was barred from the White House over his record on human rights. Trump pledged his support for Sisi’s government, and said the U.S. and Egypt would work together to fight terrorism. “I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sisi,” Trump said with Sisi by his side in the Oval Office. “He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”

Source: The New York Times

5. Trump says ‘real story’ is Obama administration surveillance, not Russia
President Trump blasted critics on Monday for focusing on his associates’ communications with Russia, saying the “real story” was the Obama administration’s “crooked scheme” to find damaging intelligence on Trump before last year’s presidential election. The comments came as conservative media reported that Susan Rice, former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, requested the identities of Trump campaign or transition associates cited in intelligence reports on surveillance of foreign officials. Former national security officials said Rice’s requests to “unmask” the identities were legal and normal procedure necessary for the president’s top security official to understand the context of the reports. Trump and his allies said the alleged requests supported their claim that the Obama administration targeted them for political reasons.

Source: The New York Times, Bloomberg

6. Report: Blackwater founder met with Putin ally to establish Trump-Moscow backchannel
Blackwater security firm founder Erik Prince met secretly with a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in January in what European and Arab officials said was part of an effort to open a communications channel between Moscow and then-President-elect Trump shortly before his inauguration, The Washington Post reported Monday. The meeting reportedly was arranged by the United Arab Emirates, which wanted to get Russia to distance itself with Iran in Syria and elsewhere. That objective, shared by Trump, probably would require the U.S. to ease its sanctions against Russia. Prince is a strong Trump supporter, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s education secretary. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “We are not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition.”

Source: The Washington Post

7. Kansas House fails to override veto on Medicaid expansion
The Kansas House of Representatives on Monday failed to override Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of lawmakers’ proposed expansion of Medicaid for the poor in the state. The vote came in 81-44 in favor of the expansion, but 84 were needed to override the veto, which Brownback issued on Thursday. Kansas was among several Republican-led states that explored Medicaid expansion after the GOP’s legislation seeking to replace ObamaCare failed last month. David Jordan, the executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said it was “disappointing” that “a small group of representatives chose to side with the governor instead of the 82 percent of Kansans who support expanding KanCare.” A Brownback spokesperson said it would be irresponsible to “expand ObamaCare when the program is in a death spiral.”

Source: Kansas Public Radio, Reuters

8. Two advertisers pull commercials from The O’Reilly Factor
Mercedes Benz said Monday that it was moving its ads from Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s show to another cable program. The move came after The New York Times reported over the weekend that Fox News parent company 21st Century Fox had paid $13 million to five women since 2002 to settle allegations of inappropriate behavior, accusations O’Reilly denies. “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now,” said Donna Boland, Mercedes’ manager of corporate communications. Another auto maker, Hyundai, said Tuesday it had no ads on O’Reilly’s show but was moving future spots due to the controversy. An attorney for former Fox News guest Wendy Walsh is calling for an independent sexual harassment investigation against host O’Reilly, whose show, The O’Reilly Factor, has been the top cable news program for 14 straight years.

Source: CNN, NBC News

9. DOJ, Sessions seek to delay, review police reform deals
The Justice Department on Monday asked a judge to delay until at least the end of June a hearing on a proposed agreement on reforms in the Baltimore police department. The request came shortly before Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered his department to review proposed overhaul deals with troubled police departments nationwide. Sessions said the review was necessary to make sure the reform deals don’t conflict with the Trump administration’s efforts to promote police safety and morale. The Obama administration reached the agreement in Baltimore after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered an injury in police custody, which sparked calls for changes. Baltimore’s Police Department and Mayor Catherine Pugh opposed any delay, saying it could erode public trust. “We want to move forward,” Pugh said.

Source: The Washington Post, The Associated Press

10. Trump to donate first-quarter salary to National Park Service
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that President Trump would donate his first quarter salary, $78,333, to the National Park Service. “It is every penny that the president received from the first quarter to the day,” Spicer said. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the money would help maintain the nation’s historic battlefields from conflicts such as the Civil War. “We’re going to dedicate it and put it against the infrastructure of our nation’s battlefields,” Zinke said. “We’re about $229 million behind in deferred maintenance on our battlefields alone.” Trump said during the campaign that he would not take a salary, but since the Constitution requires the president be paid, Trump later said he would give it away.

Source: The Washington Post