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News Wrap: Some countries could be exempted from Trump tariffs, White House suggests

In our news wrap Wednesday, the White House has signaled that President Trump might scale back his plans to punish U.S. trading partners, including exemptions for particular countries. Also, the chief of the U.S. Forest Service announced he's retiring amid allegations of sexual misconduct, following a NewsHour investigation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will hear from both the governor and the attorney general of California after the news summary.

    In the day's other news: The White House signaled that President Trump might scale back his plans to punish U.S. trading partners. He's talked of broad new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, despite objections from his own party, including an open letter today from 107 House Republicans.

    This afternoon, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said there might be exemptions after all.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    And there are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security and possibly other countries as well based on that process.

  • Man:

    Specifically, what would they have to do?

  • Sarah Sanders:

    Again, that would be a case-by-case and country-by-country basis, but it would be determined whether or not there is a national security exemption.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In a series of morning tweets, the president called for China to trim its trade surplus with the U.S. The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, joined in.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Minority Leader:

    The trouble is, the execution of plan didn't do what his instincts said do. They caused far more harm to countries that aren't rapacious in their trading, where we benefit from trading, Canada, where we have a surplus, Western Europe. They ought to put together a real plan that works.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that, in January, the U.S. trade deficit hit $56 billion. That's the worst since October of 2008.

    The chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tony Tooke, announced this evening he's retiring, amid allegations of sexual misconduct. It follows a "NewsHour" investigation of widespread complaints of sexual harassment within the Forest Service, and an ongoing probe of Tooke's own behavior.

    In a letter to staff, Tooke says he's been forthright, but that it's best he step down immediately.

    The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, came under new criticism today. The agency's inspector general said — quote — "failed leadership" during the Obama years endangered veterans' health care. Shulkin was a deputy secretary then, and the report cited shortcomings in programs that were under his control. He said he doesn't recall being told of the problems.

    The Northeastern U.S. is under assault tonight from its second major winter storm in less than a week. Blowing snow made for poor visibility in Delaware today. Pennsylvania and New York even banned big rig trucks from some highways. And the governor of Massachusetts warned residents to be on alert.

  • Gov. Charlie Baker, R-Mass.:

    It's expected that, at some point, we may have snow falling at a rate of as much as two or three inches an hour. This will lead to whiteout conditions as far east as Boston and potentially across the western and northeastern part of the state.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 90,000 customers are still without power across the region, after last Friday's nor'easter. The storm has also forced cancellation of more than 2,700 flights.

    The accused gunman in the Florida school shootings was formally indicted today. Nikolas Cruz faces 17 counts of first-degree murder, plus 17 of attempted murder. His public defender says that he will plead guilty if prosecutors forego the death penalty.

    In Britain, Scotland Yard confirmed that a nerve agent was used to attack a one-time Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter. Skripal had lived in Southern England after being freed in a spy swap years ago. But officials stopped short today of directly accusing Moscow.

    Rohit Kachroo of Independent Television News reports.

  • Rohit Kachroo:

    Tuesday afternoon in Salisbury last week, a local resident goes to buy milk, meat and scratch cards. The scene could hardly be any more mundane, expect this is Sergei Skripal, the former spy who would later be specifically targeted with his daughter.

    Tonight, investigators confirmed that they were poisoned by a nerve agent.

  • Mark Rowley:

    In summary it is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent. As you know, these two people remain critically ill in hospital.

    Sadly, in addition, a police officer who was one of the first to attend to the scene and respond to the incident is now also in a serious condition in hospital.

  • Sally Davies:

    My message to the public is that this event poses a low risk towards the public on the evidence we have.

  • Rohit Kachroo:

    The investigation is growing. The police cordon expanding. New buildings were included today. There is a sense of extreme urgency among investigators and ministers. The government's emergency committee, COBRA, was convened today.

  • Amber Rudd:

    Our thoughts are with everybody affected, particularly the two people who are still in hospital. This is likely to be a lengthy and ongoing process. We need to make sure that we respond not to rumor, but to all the evidence that they collect, and then we will need to decide what action to take.

  • Rohit Kachroo:

    Tonight, at Mr. Skripal's home, a tent was erected as officers collected evidence. He should be here hosting his visitor from Russia, his daughter. Instead, they're both at the heart of a medical operation, a police investigation and a diplomatic crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That report from Rohit Kachroo of Independent Television News.

    South Korea's President Moon Jae-in says that he wants to keep sanctions on North Korea for now, despite a diplomatic thaw. Moon spoke to members of his ruling party today in Seoul. He said it's important to maintain pressure on the North to try to make it give up nuclear weapons.

    Moon and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, are to hold a summit next month.

    There's word that pro-government forces in Syria have cut the besieged area of Eastern Ghouta in two. War monitors based in London say that it happened today in the Damascus suburb. Plumes of smoke rose above the area under heavy shelling.

    The U.N. human rights chief decried the bloodshed today from Geneva.

  • Zeid Bin Ra’ad Al-Hussein:

    Recent attempts to justify indiscriminate, brutal attacks on hundreds of thousands of civilians by the need to combat a few hundred fighters as in Eastern Ghouta are legally and morally unsustainable. Claims by the government of Syria that it is taking every measure to protect its civilian population are, frankly, ridiculous.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At least 800 civilians have been killed in Eastern Ghouta in the last three weeks. The U.N. Security Council has demanded a 30-day cease-fire. It called today for the truce to be implemented.

    Back in this country, Texas' first-in-the-nation midterm primaries brought a surge in turnout Tuesday for both parties. Democrats surpassed a million voters for the first time since 2002. The GOP contests had 1.5 million. That breaks a record set in 2010. No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.

    The White House today dismissed new claims that a porn film star had an extramarital affair with President Trump back in 2006. Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, had previously denied an affair. She reversed herself in a lawsuit aimed at throwing out a nondisclosure deal. She signed it just before the 2016 election, and received $130,000 from the president's lawyer.

    And Wall Street struggled again to make headway amid trade tensions. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 82 points to close at 24801. The Nasdaq rose 24 points, and the S&P 500 slipped one.

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