Live Coverage

Today's News: Feb. 20, 2017

The White House confirms that Trump reassigned a senior National Security Council adviser after he disagreed with the president’s Latin American policy, and South Sudan becomes the first country in six years to announce a famine.

Siegfried Modola / Reuters

—The government of South Sudan said some 100,000 of its people are facing starvation, and on Monday it became the first country to declare a famine in six years.

—The White House confirmed that Trump reassigned a senior National Security Council aide after he disagreed with the president’s policies for Latin America.

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


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Trump Picks Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Donald Trump named Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser on Monday. McMaster is a well-respected Army officer who is also known for his scholarly work. His 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty, examined former-President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Joint Chief of Staff’s missteps and indecisiveness during the Vietnam War. He was also a critic of the Iraq War, in which he served. He led the 2005 counterinsurgency in the north of Iraq to secure Tal Afar, and was instrumental to the strategy used by General David Patraeus and that was credited with turning around the war. Foreign Policy magazine called McMaster “the brain behind Patraeus.”

Last week, Trump’s first pick for the job, Michael Flynn, stepped down from the position after reports showed he had misled the vice president about the nature of a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador. Trump then offered the position to retired retired Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward, who turned the position down, reportedly because of the chaos inside the White House. McMaster is widely respected with the military. Some of his work may serve him particularly well; he recently led a high-level panel on how the Army should respond to Russia’s new posture, Politico reports. And in Derelection of Duty, he criticized Johnson for being “profoundly insecure and distrustful of anyone but his closest civilian advisers,” a description critics have applied to the current president, as well.  

Russia's Ambassador to the UN Dies in New York

Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin, died in New York City on Monday a day before his 65th birthday. Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador told the Associated Press that Churkin was ill and taken to the hospital, although the cause of the illness is not known at this time. Churkin has been envoy to the UN for more than a decade. He has been a fierce defender of Russia’s foreign policies, including the intensive bombing Syrian rebels in Aleppo last year.  

Trump Dismisses a Senior NSC Advisor for Criticising Administration Policy

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The White House confirmed on Monday that President Donald Trump reassigned a senior National Security Council (NSC) adviser after he criticized the administration’s Latin American policy. The advisor, Craig Deare, was removed and sent back to his former role, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Monday. Deare had been assigned to the NSC by the administration, and while at a private meeting hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, he harshly criticized the president and top aides like Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and complained of the dysfunction in the White House, POLITICO reported. Deare also allegedly recounted an embarrassing call Trump had with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Deare was appointed to the NSC by the Trump administration, and his release is just the latest example of the chaos being reported within the Trump White House. Last week, Trump dismissed his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after it was revealed he misled the vice president about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador.

South Sudan Becomes the First Country in Six Years to Declare Famine

Siegfried Modola / Reuters

More than 100,000 people in South Sudan face starvation, and on Monday it became the first country in six years to declare a famine. An ethnic conflict, which started three years ago, has driven people from their homes in some northern parts of the country, and combined with a failing economy, and drought, it has led to severe food instability. The famine so far has been contained to the northern areas of the country, but it’s expected to grow much worse this summer, and could possibly impact 5.5 million people, or about half the country’s population. A famine is only declared when a certain criteria is met. It requires at least 20 percent of homes facing extreme food shortages, and malnutrition rates of more than 30 percent. There is no binding obligation from UN member countries, but declaring famine often rallies relief groups to help deliver aid and brings international attention. South Sudan is one of Africa’s most unstable countries. It broke off from Sudan in 2011, and after a couple years of peace, the country has erupted in violence, with thousands of rebel factions fighting one another, often putting civilians in the middle.