The Atlantic Daily: Passing the Presidential Mic

Trump addressed the press, Obama gave a final speech, Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing began, and more.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

What We’re Following

Trump Takes Questions: The president-elect this morning held his first press conference in six months, in which he announced a new plan to address his conflicts of interest and then conceded for the first time that Russia was likely involved in cyberattacks on the U.S. He also dodged questions about his business ties in Russia and renewed his refusal to release his tax returns. Trump’s long-scheduled presser came amid uproar over a report last night of unverified claims that Russian agents had compromising information about him. Whether or not that dossier is accurate, it raises worrying questions over intelligence and troubling risks for the media’s credibility.

Tillerson Talks: Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. The former CEO of ExxonMobil has controversial business ties to Russia and other foreign governments, and his questioners pressed him particularly hard on Russia. He also expressed support for measures to address climate change, though he downplayed humans’ role in creating the problem. Read all our updates on today’s confirmation hearings here.

Obama’s Farewell: The outgoing president gave his last speech to the nation from Chicago last night. In addition to thanking his family, staff, and voters, he looked back on America’s last eight years of economic progress—and also warned against threats to democracy posed by intolerance and discrimination. That warning implied a strong criticism of Trump, and on that point it’s worth noting that Obama set a precedent for violations of civil liberties that his successor will now inherit. Still, the defining message of the speech was of faith in the enduring ideals of America—a nation that’s flawed but filled with hope, empathy, and the ability to change for the better.


Obama as a senator and presidential candidate, at the AP annual luncheon in DC on April 14, 2008 … and Obama as president, at the White House Easter Egg Roll on March 28, 2016. See more interactive photos of Obama’s transformation here. (Andrew Harnik / AP, Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)

Evening Read

Ed Yong on a breakthrough in the search for the origin of complex life:

To understand this story, we have to go back to the very beginning. The Earth was created around 4.5 billion years ago, and judging by some astonishingly ancient fossils, life emerged relatively soon after. For the longest time, living things belonged to two great domains: the bacteria and the archaea, both microscopic and both comprising single cells. That was the status quo for at least 1.7 billion years, until the two domains were joined by a third: the eukaryotes. And they were very different.

Eukaryotic cells are generally much bigger than either bacteria or archaea. They also have larger genomes. They have internal compartments that act like our organs, each with its own special job. They have an internal skeleton that acts as a transport network for molecules. There’s this huge gulf of complexity that separates them from the other two domains. It’s a gulf that has only ever been crossed once in life’s history. Bacteria and archaea are capable of amazing feats of evolution, but in over 3.7 billion years of existence, none of them have ever evolved into anything approaching a eukaryote-like cell—except that one time. Why?

Keep reading here, as Ed explains why scientists believe a newly discovered group of microbes may be the ones we all evolved from.

What Do You Know?

1. Every year, U.S. patients contract a total of about ____________ infections while they’re at the hospital.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. ____________ percent of vocational programs that fail to find decent jobs for their graduates are for-profit schools.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. A recent study finds that compared to Norwegians, Americans are much more willing to accept inequality when it’s a result of ____________.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Answers: 440,000, 98, luck

Look Back

On this day in 1964, a report from the U.S. Surgeon General declared that smoking was a public health hazard serious enough to warrant government action. A year later, despite the passage of a bill that required warning labels on cigarette packages, not much had changed. In our September 1965 issue, Elizabeth Drew explained why:

Behind the facade of a requirement for printing a warning on cigarette packages (which is not expected to deter smoking much), Congress tied the hands of the Federal Trade Commission by forbidding it to proceed with its own plans to apply much more stringent regulations. Had it not been for Congress, the FTC, which is charged with preventing unfair and deceptive trade practices, would have required a warning both on cigarette packages and in cigarette advertising. The effect of the advertising regulation is what the cigarette industry most feared; Congress obliged by forbidding it for at least four years.

In another remarkable provision, the law prohibits state and local governments from taking any action on cigarette labeling or advertising. It is one thing for Congress to prohibit the states from enacting legislation which overlaps and is inconsistent with its own requirements, as in the case of the labeling, but it is a far different thing for Congress to refuse to act, and to prohibit the states from acting, as in the case of cigarette advertising.

Read the whole story on the power of the cigarette lobby here, and read more here about Drew’s remarkable career.

Reader Response

Did you change your mind about Obama during his presidency? Michael voted against him eight years ago, but came to support his health-care reform efforts:

In 2008, Hillary Clinton’s bruising primaries against President Obama misled me to John McCain. Also, I genuinely wanted to see a Vietnam War veteran win the presidency, after John Kerry had gotten swift-boated by the Bush campaign in 2004. My profound ignorance of Sarah Palin did not help. For the first and only time in my life, I backed a Republican candidate for president.

After that, the emergence of the Tea Party and Obama’s basic moral decency in championing health care reform turned me sharply against the GOP. … The 2010 midterms, the sequester, the threatened government shutdowns, the obstructionism, the do-nothingism, and the failure of Speaker Ryan to pass a budget—it all cemented for me a deep disdain for Congressional Republicans. I voted straight-ticket Democratic in 2012.

Speaking of Obamacare, its future is stalling in Congress yet again, as Republicans eager to repeal the law run into more and more logistical hurdles.

The Atlantic Daily is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. To contact us, email