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News Wrap: Trump moves to give religious groups easier access to federal programs

In our news wrap Thursday, President Trump moved to give religious groups easier access to federal programs -- and to reaffirm the right to pray in public schools. Nine Cabinet departments proposed rules to ensure faith-based organizations are not discriminated against in the competition for grant funding. Also, the UN reports 350,000 people have fled a new government offensive in northwest Syria.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the day's other news: Before taking up impeachment, the Senate handed President Trump a policy win.

    It overwhelmingly approved a wide-ranging new trade agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada 89-10. The deal aims to boost auto produced in the U.S. and to improve conditions for workers in Mexico.

    We will take a closer look, after the news summary.

    Separately, the president moved today to give some religious groups easier access to federal programs and to reaffirm the right to pray in public schools. Nine Cabinet departments proposed rules to ensure that faith-based organizations are not discriminated against in the competition for grant funding.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have rules to roll back discriminatory regulations on religious service organizations.

    And, earlier this afternoon, my White House released a new memo to make sure federal funding is never used to violate the First Amendment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president also directed that states provide ways to file complaints against schools that limit prayer.

    In Syria, the United Nations reports that some 350,000 people have filed — or fled, rather, a new government offensive in the Northwest. The assault on Idlib province, backed by Russia, has pushed families to the Turkish border region. Most are sheltering in tent encampments. The U.N. says about 80 percent are women and children, and many are short of food and water.

    There's word that Taliban negotiators have made a temporary cease-fire offer in Afghanistan. The Associated Press reports that it calls for a seven-to-10-day truce, and was given to a U.S. envoy last night. It remains unclear if the proposal is enough to revive stalled peace talks.

    The president of Iran now says that his government no longer faces any barriers to enriching uranium under the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S. quit the deal in 2018. Iran withdrew this month, after its leading general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. airstrike.

    President Hassan Rouhani spoke today to bank executives in Tehran.

  • President Hassan Rouhani (through translator):

    Today, as I stand here in front of you, we have no limits on nuclear energy, absolutely none. Today, our daily enrichment is more than before we signed the JCPOA, the 2015 nuclear deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5 percent purity. Weapons-grade is 90 percent.

    Back in this country, the FBI today arrested three white supremacists who allegedly built an illegal machine gun and were headed to a gun rally in Richmond, Virginia. Court documents say that they had ordered hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

    Just yesterday, Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam banned weapons near the state capitol for Monday's rally.

    On Wall Street, stock indexes hit new highs, partly on news of healthy holiday sales. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 267 points to close at 29297. The Nasdaq rose 98 points, and the S&P 500 added 27, closing above 3300 for the first time.

    And a cheating scandal has claimed another Major League Baseball manager. The New York Mets parted ways with Carlos Beltran today, after hiring him last November. An investigation found that he was involved in stealing signals from catchers when he played for the Houston Astros. Houston and the Boston Red Sox already fired their managers in the scandal.

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