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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 11, 2019

Harold Maass
Michael Cohen exits federal court
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
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1.

Trump visits border, saying he could declare emergency to fund wall

President Trump pressed his case for a wall on the Mexican border during a visit to Texas on Thursday. Trump accused Democrats of weakness on border security, essentially blaming them for illegal immigration, human trafficking, drug smuggling, and violent crimes by criminals who enter the U.S. illegally. "If we had a barrier of any kind, a powerful barrier, whether it's steel or concrete, we would stop it cold," Trump said. He added that he would likely declare the border issue a national emergency if Democrats continued to deny him the $5.7 billion he wants to build the wall, saying that would give him access to "plenty of funds" for the project. Democrats argue a physical barrier would be ineffective. They say Trump is manufacturing a crisis for political gain. [USA Today]

2.

Michael Cohen accepts invitation to testify before Congress

Michael Cohen said Thursday that he had agreed to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7, and give "a full and credible account" of his work for President Trump as his personal lawyer. Cohen pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court last August to financial charges including tax fraud, and to a campaign finance violation stemming from a payment — shortly before the 2016 election — to silence a woman claiming she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago. Cohen agreed in a plea deal to cooperate with prosecutors, including members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. [The New York Times]

3.

Pentagon announces start of Syria withdrawal

A Pentagon spokesman said Friday that the U.S. has begun withdrawing its 2,000 troops from Syria, days after National Security Adviser John Bolton said President Trump's withdrawal plan was contingent on certain objectives being met, suggesting a longer time frame. Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, said the U.S. has "begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria," and there will be no further information about "specific timelines, locations, or troop movements." The U.S. and its Kurdish allies have slowly pushed back ISIS, and Syria, Iran, and Turkey all want the quarter of Syria now under U.S. control. Turkey has massed troops on the border specifically to attack the Kurds. [The New York Times]

4.

House Democrats pass more funding bills with more GOP help

The Democratic-led House on Thursday passed two bills seeking to fund the shuttered departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the rest of the fiscal year, once again providing no funding for President Trump's border wall. Republican defections increased, with 12 GOP representatives joining Democrats in the Transportation-HUD vote, while 10 bucked the White House to reopen the Agriculture Department and ensure food stamp funding. On Wednesday, just eight Republicans voted for a bill to reopen the Treasury Department and IRS; last week, seven Republicans backed measures to reopen all departments but Homeland Security (DHS), and five voted for a DHS bill with no wall funding. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has blocked action on the bills in the Senate. [The Hill]

5.

Mike Pompeo slams Obama Mideast policies in Cairo speech

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo harshly criticized the Obama administration's Mideast policies during a speech in Cairo on Thursday, accusing the former president of diminishing America's role in the region, hurting U.S. allies, and emboldening Iran. Pompeo referenced former President Barack Obama's 2009 speech in the Egyptian capital without mentioning him by name, saying "another American" told Egyptians "that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from ideology," that "9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals," and that "the United States and the Muslim world needed 'a new beginning.' The results of these misjudgments have been dire." Critics said Pompeo's speech was petty, partisan, and pandered to authoritarian leaders Obama called out. [NBC News]

6.

Federal workers protest shutdown as it ties record for longest in history

Hundreds of federal workers furloughed under a partial government shutdown joined contractors, union representatives, and supporters Thursday in a protest outside the White House, calling on President Trump and Congress to reopen the government. "We want to send a very strong message — that this is not about politics, it's about getting people back to work," said Brittany Holder, a spokeswoman for the NFFE and a protest organizer. Federal workers sent home or working without pay head into their first payday with no checks on Friday at the end of the shutdown's third week. It is now tied for the longest government closure in U.S. history, and senators have gone home for the weekend, ensuring it will set a record. [The Washington Post, Time]

7.

Embattled Maduro starts second term as Venezuela's president

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro started his second six-year term on Thursday after rejecting international calls to step down. Maduro took over the once-rich South American oil producer's socialist revolution after the death of late President Hugo Chavez, and has been accused of destroying its economy and democracy. Other Latin American nations marked Maduro's swearing in by cutting back diplomatic ties, and the Organization of American States voted not to recognize Maduro's second term, which critics say Maduro won in May only because his popular rivals were banned from running and the biggest anti-government political party boycotted the election. Maduro said the U.S. and its allies were trying to "convert a normal inauguration into a world war." [CNN]

8.

Eddie Lampert confirms his higher bid to save Sears

Sears Holdings Corp. chairman Eddie Lampert confirmed Thursday that he had upped his bid to take over the struggling iconic retailer to more than $5 billion. Sears will review Lampert's revised offer in a Jan. 14 bankruptcy auction. The company had rejected his previous bid of $4.4 billion, saying it wasn't enough. Now the company will weigh whether Lampert's new bid offers better value to investors than liquidation. Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments, said in a statement that its offer would "provide substantially more value to stakeholders than any other option, in particular a liquidation," and "the best path forward for Sears." Lampert's proposal seeks to preserve the jobs of 50,000 Sears workers. [Reuters]

9.

Report: Oceans warming faster than feared

New research shows that the world's oceans are getting warmer at a much faster rate than previously thought. The oceans have, in the past, provided an essential counter to the effects of climate change, but that may be changing. The oceans have been setting high-temperature records for several years now, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday. And what's more, they're getting about 40 percent warmer than a United Nations panel estimated back in 2014. Earth's oceans absorb up to 93 percent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases — and as they get warmer, adverse effects such as loss of marine life, vanishing ecosystems, and worsening storms are bound to ramp up. [The New York Times]

10.

Myanmar court rejects Reuters journalists' appeal

A Myanmar court on Friday rejected the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in prison after their conviction on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act. They had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces. "It was a suitable punishment," High Court Judge Aung Naing said. The journalists, Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, can appeal to the country's supreme court. Reuters and human rights advocates called the ruling unjust. "Reporting is not a crime," said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler, "and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar's commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt." [Reuters]