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News Wrap: Tillerson talks Russia sanctions, ‘peaceful pressure’ on North Korea

August 1, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
In the our news wrap Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a rare appearance in front of news reporters, commenting on tensions with Russia and North Korea and brushing aside speculation that he's seeking a way out of the State Department. Also, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans are still examining options for another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a rare and unexpected appearance in front of news reporters today, commenting on tensions around the world.

He said neither he nor the president were — quote — “happy” with new sanctions Congress imposed on Russia.

And on North Korea, Tillerson said the United States’ options are limited and that the U.S. is looking to apply peaceful pressure on Pyongyang.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. Secretary of State: And we’re trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy, we are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond. And we hope that, at some point, they will begin to understand that, and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The secretary of state also acknowledged some differences he has with President Trump, including over the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

REX TILLERSON: He calls late at night on the weekends when something comes into his head and he wants to talk. He may call me at any moment, at any time. But it is a very open relationship, and it’s one in which I feel quite comfortable telling him my views.

And he and I have differences on views on things like JCPOA and how we should use it. We have differences, but I think, if we’re not having those differences, I’m not sure I’m serving him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tillerson brushed aside speculation that he is frustrated and looking for a way out of the State Department.

The U.S. Senate’s top Republican left open the door slightly for another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. GOP health care overhaul legislation failed by a narrow vote last week, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that his party is still examining its options. He did, however, reject President Trump’s call for Republicans to change Senate rules and reduce its 60-vote threshold to eliminate filibusters.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL,R-K.y., Majority Leader: I mean, it’s pretty obvious that our problem on health care wasn’t the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Republicans. There are not the votes in the Senate, as I have said repeatedly to the president and to all of you, to change the rules of the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the Republican chair of the Senate’s Health Committee wants to pass a one-year extension of federal payments to insurers. President Trump has threatened to halt those payments, but Democrats and others say the move would hike premiums.

Majority Leader McConnell also said today that the debate on raising the nation’s debt ceiling could stretch until September. The Treasury Department says that September 29 is the last day it will be able to pay the government’s bills. The White House says that it is important to raise the debt ceiling — quote — “as soon as possible.”

The Senate has confirmed Christopher Wray as the next director of the FBI. Senators OKed the former Justice Department official overwhelmingly, 92-5. He takes over the agency after President Trump fired James Comey in May, amid the investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

In Pakistan, lawmakers have picked a new prime minister, but the length of his term is uncertain. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is a loyalist of Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified as premier last week for concealing assets. Abbasi won an overwhelming majority in parliament, but he represents a ruling party that wants him to serve only until Sharif’s younger brother wins a National Assembly seat, and can take over.

SHAHID KHAQAN ABBASI, Interim Prime Minister, Pakistan (through interpreter): Whether I am here for 45 hours or 45 days, I am the prime minister and I am not here to keep the chair warm. Rather, I am here to work. I will do the work of 45 months if I remain for 45 days. The process of democracy is back on track. It wasn’t derailed. No one ran away. No one broke off from the party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Abbasi also dismissed the corruption allegations against Sharif, and said the Pakistani people don’t accept his disqualification.

At least 29 people are dead in Afghanistan, after a suicide attack at a Shiite mosque. It happened in the western city of Herat during evening prayers. A local lawmaker said he was told that one attacker fired on worshipers before blowing himself up, but it wasn’t clear whether there was a second attacker.

Back in this country, President Trump’s comments on policing have come under fire from the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Last week, Mr. Trump suggested that officers do away with practices like protecting suspects’ heads as they’re put into police cars. But in a weekend e-mail to his agency, the acting DEA director, Chuck Rosenberg, who was appointed during the Obama administration, said the remarks — quote — “condoned police misconduct.”

On Wall Street, banks and technology companies pushed stocks higher today. The Dow Jones industrial gained 72 points to close at 21963. The Nasdaq rose 14 to close at 6362, and the S&P 500 gained six points.

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