10 things you need to know today: February 20, 2017

Alex Wong/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Defense Secretary Mattis says U.S. won’t seize Iraqi oil
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Monday said that the U.S. would not try to seize Iraq’s oil, an idea President Trump floated last month that has upset Iraqi leaders. Some local lawmakers have been pressuring Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to cut back on the country’s cooperation with the U.S. due to Trump’s oil threat and his travel ban, which included Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries but has been blocked by courts. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mattis told reporters after arriving in Iraq on an unannounced visit.

Source: USA Today

2. Sweden demands explanation for Trump’s terror comment
The Swedish government on Sunday demanded an explanation from the State Department on what President Trump meant when he said a day earlier, “You look what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” Trump’s comment about the challenges involved in keeping America safe was widely interpreted to mean that some kind of attack had taken place this weekend in Sweden, but Swedish authorities said nothing happened that night, or any other recent night. “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister, wrote on Twitter. Trump responded on Twitter, saying he was referring to a Fox News report he had seen about Sweden and immigration. Fox News ran a report Fridaynight on alleged migrant-related crime in Sweden.

Source: Reuters, NBC News

3. Pence tells EU leaders U.S. wants to ‘deepen’ relationship
Vice President Mike Pence told European Union officials on Mondaythat the Trump administration wants to “deepen our relationship” with the 28-nation trading bloc. The comment, which came in a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels, was seen as an attempt to reassure EU leaders’ concerns over President Trump’s support for Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Pence also sought to reassure European officials in Germany over the weekend at the Munich Security Conference, but some participants left the conference still worried about comments Trump has made, such as calling NATO “obsolete.” “People were not reassured,” said Daniela Schwarzer, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations. “They think that Trump is erratic and incalculable.”

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

4. North Korea says it doesn’t trust Malaysian investigators
North Korea said Monday that it did not trust Malaysia to properly investigate last week’s murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Pyongyang is calling for a joint investigation. South Korea has said it was “certain” that North Korea was behind the killing, which Seoul called an “act of terrorism.” CCTV footage released Monday showed Kim Jong Nam, 45, going to a check-in kiosk and being ambushed by two women. Authorities say the women applied a deadly poison. North Korea has grown increasingly angry over the case, accusing Malaysia and South Korea of conspiring to pin the killing on Pyongyang.

Source: The Washington Post

5. Kraft Heinz withdraws proposal to merge with Unilever
Kraft Heinz has scrapped its $143 billion merger proposal with Unilever, the companies announced Sunday. The companies said the decision had been made amicably. Kraft Heinz made the surprise offer on Thursday, proposing a price that marked an 18 percent premium on Unilever’s Thursday closing price, but Unilever, which makes Dove soap, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, said the offer “fundamentally” undervalued the British-Dutch company. Kraft Heinz promptly said it was ready to keep pushing, but a Heinz spokesman said Unilever made it clear that it “did not wish to pursue a transaction.”

Source: The New York Times, BBC News

6. Iraqi forces make gains in western Mosul offensive
Iraqi government soldiers took control of several villages near Mosul on Sunday in the first day of an offensive aiming to drive the Islamic State out of the city, ISIS’ last major stronghold in Iraq. Government forces took over the eastern side of the city last month. The latest attack, announced Sunday by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, could prove tougher, as the area is laced with narrow, winding streets providing ISIS militants with ready cover. Two of the villages taken by government forces on Sunday put the advancing troops in a position to attack the city’s airport. Forces on the government-controlled east side can’t easily push into the western side because all bridges joining the two sides of the Tigris River have been destroyed.

Source: BBC News

7. SpaceX launches rocket after delay
SpaceX launched a rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station on Sunday, a day after an unexpected reading from the rocket’s second stage forced a delay 13 seconds before liftoff. Sunday’s launch was the first from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center since the last space shuttle launch more than five years ago, and SpaceX’s first from the historic Launch Pad 39A that Apollo 11 used in 1969 on the way to the moon. The Dragon cargo capsule, carrying 5,500 pounds of supplies, experiments, and other cargo, reached orbit on schedule 11 minutes after liftoff, and is expected to link up with the Space Station this week. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, successfully landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an important step in SpaceX’s recovery from the explosion of a rocket on a launchpad last September.

Source: Space.com, The New York Times

8. Suicide bombing kills 30 in Somalia
A suicide bombing killed at least 30 people at a busy market near the center of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, on Sunday. “The market was full of blood,” said Fa’izo Shimbir, a shopper who was near the market and saw dead bodies scattered around. The attack, which officials blamed on the Islamist extremist group al-Shabab, underscored the intense security challenges facing Somalia’s new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was selected by the country’s parliament this month and hours before the attack had announced a new offensive against al-Shabab.

Source: The New York Times

9. Uber chief vows investigation of sexual harassment allegations
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said Sunday that the ride-hailing company would conduct an “urgent investigation” into sexual harassment accusations made by a former employee in a blog post. The former Uber software programmer, Susan Fowler, said that her manager propositioned her in chat messages. She said she took screenshots of the messages and showed them to human resources, but was told that her boss was a “high performer” and senior managers didn’t want to punish him for something they saw as an “innocent mistake.” Kalanick said the behavior Fowler described was “abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in.”

Source: Bloomberg, Reuters

10. Trump interviews national security adviser candidates
President Trump on Sunday met with four potential replacements for retired general Mike Flynn, who was ousted as national security adviser last week. The candidates for the job reportedly included Trump’s acting adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, as well as former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, and Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump might meet with more candidates. Trump, spending the weekend at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, said he wanted to make his pick in the next few days.

Source: The Associated Press

10 things you need to know today: February 19, 2017

John Moore/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. DHS memos propose stricter deportation guidelines
Two memos proposing stricter deportation guidelines for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors have been sent from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to the White House for approval, McClatchy reported Saturday afternoon. The documents are dated Feb. 17 and have yet to receive final go-ahead from the president. One memo would increase deportations by giving asylum officers greater discretion to deny asylum requests. At present, 88 percent of asylum seekers pass their initial interview with field officers; they then wait in the U.S. for a court hearing (sometimes a multi-year delay), at which point only 18 percent successfully gain asylum. Under the new guidelines, officers would be more likely to deny applicants at the interview stage if they believe the asylum seeker does not have a “significant possibility” of winning in court. The second memo concerns children who travel to the U.S. alone to meet parents already living here illegally. Those children would be more likely to face deportation, and their parents could face criminal charges if they paid a human trafficker to transport their child.

Source: Reuters, McClatchy

2. Trump touts economic agenda and nationalist themes at campaign-style rally in Florida
President Trump spoke at a large, campaign-style rally in Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday, giving a wide-ranging speech “to tell you about our plans for the future.” He first addressed his economic agenda, highlighting ways in which he intends to create new jobs in America. From there, Trump turned to crime, drugs, immigration, and national security, closely linked topics in his perspective. “I’ve ordered the construction of a great border wall which will start very shortly,” he said, “and I’ve taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.” The speech closed with a sweeping call to a new national — and nationalist — unity in America. “Erasing national borders does not make people safer or more prosperous,” Trump said. “It undermines democracy and trades away prosperity.”

Source: The Hill, Reuters

3. U.S.-supported Iraqi troops begin battle to take western Mosul
The Iraqi army’s U.S.-supported battle to retake the western side of the city of Mosul from the Islamic State began in earnest Sunday. The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets warning civilians trapped in the area of the coming onslaught before beginning an air and ground offensive. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described Sunday’s operation as a “new dawn” for freedom in Mosul, urging the “heroic forces of Iraq” to “go forward with [his] blessing.” The eastern side of the city, divided from the still-occupied western portion by the Tigris River, was liberated from ISIS control in January.

Source: BBC News, CNN

4. Russia calls for ‘pragmatic’ U.S. relations, ‘post-West world order’
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined Moscow’s vision for the future shape of international and Russo-American relations. “What kind of relations do we want with the U.S.? Pragmatic relations, mutual respect, understanding our special responsibility for global stability,” he said. “You can call it a post-West world order when each country, based on its sovereignty within the rules of international law, will strive to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of partners.” Lavrov’s remarks came shortly after Vice President Mike Pence pledged the U.S. “will continue to hold Russia accountable.”

Source: The Week, U.S. News & World Report

5. Netanyahu rejected regional peace initiative last year
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in 2016 to consider a regional peace initiative negotiated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Sunday. The covert talks took place in Jordan last February, and terms of the agreement Netanyahu would ultimately reject included renewed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership as well as Arab nations’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. History will “definitely judge the magnitude of the opportunity as well as the magnitude of the missed opportunity,” tweeted Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog in response to the news on Sunday. Netanyahu confirmed Sunday that the meeting took place and said in a gathering of Likud ministers that it occurred at his initiation.

Source: The Washington Post, Reuters

6. U.S. aircraft carrier begins ‘routine’ patrols in disputed South China Sea
The USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, was deployed to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday to make what the U.S. Navy says are routine patrols. The Vinson carries a fleet of 60 aircraft and will be “demonstrating [the strike group’s] capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Rear Admiral James Kilby. The ocean territory in question is claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Beijing said in a statement it “firmly opposes any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

Source: CNN, ABC News

7. SpaceX-NASA joint rocket launch delayed
SpaceX on Saturday announced it would delay the planned launch of its Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “Standing down to take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle. 9:38am ET tomorrow is next earliest launch opportunity,” the company tweeted. The rocket, under contract with NASA, is headed to the International Space Station to launch an unmanned aircraft filled with cargo and supplies. The launch was originally slated for Saturday at 10:01 a.m. ET, but now will switch to its backup time Sunday morning.

Source: Quartz, CNN

8. 5 dead as heavy rains continue to batter California
Five people have died since Friday thanks to heavy rains in Southern California that produced widespread power outages, sinkholes, and flash floods. Storms are expected to continue through Monday and spread to the northern region of the state. For “almost all of Northern California we are going to be telling people to get ready for area flooding,” said meteorologist Bill Rasch of the National Weather Service. “It just doesn’t take much rain to cause many problems … which is only going to exacerbate all the current situations going on.” After years of drought, many California dams are now close to overflowing their capacity.

Source: Los Angeles Times, CNN

9. ‘Blind sheikh’ convicted of 1993 WTC bombing dies in prison
Islamic extremist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the “blind sheikh,” has died in a South Carolina prison, his family and law enforcement confirmed Saturday. He was 78 years old. Abdel-Rahman was convicted on 48 of 50 charges of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison for his role in planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000. He was also involved in plotting “a war of urban terrorism against the United States,” specifically a day of coordinated attacks on targets including the United Nations building as well as a bridge and several tunnels in New York City. Those plans never came to fruition. Abdel-Rahman’s followers have been linked to deadly terror attacks around the world, incidents he inspired via radio and cassette tapes before his arrest.

Source: Reuters, NBC New York

10. Norma McCorvey, ‘Roe’ of Roe v. Wade, dies at 69
Norma McCorvey, the woman who successfully challenged U.S. abortion laws under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, died in Texas Saturday of heart failure, her daughter reported. She was 69 years old. After her high-profile legal battle, McCorvey converted to Catholicism and became a prominent opponent of the abortion rights she’d pursued as young woman. “I’ll be serving the Lord and helping women save their babies. I will hold a pro-life position for the rest of my life,” she said of her change of heart. “I think I’ve always been pro-life. I just didn’t know it.”

Source: ABC News, NPR

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2017

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump defends performance, slams media in news conference
President Trump defended his job performance in a combative, hastily arranged news conference on Thursday, saying he “inherited a mess.” He said the “dishonest” media was wrong to report turmoil in his administration, calling it a “fine-tuned machine.” Over an hour and a half, he slammed news outlets for printing leaked information while calling reports of his aides’ contact with Russia “fake,” and vowed an investigation to find out how the press was getting confidential information. He also said he would sign a new executive order restricting travel from some nations to the U.S. Trump also bounced from boasting about his electoral victory to expressing pain over the often harsh criticism he has faced in the media. “The tone is such hatred,” he said. “I’m really not a bad person.”

Source: The New York Times

2. ISIS claims responsibility for attack at Pakistan shrine
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 75 people at a shrine in Pakistan on Thursday. Another 200 people were injured. The blast in the main hall of the shrine of the revered 13th-century Muslim Sufi philosopher Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was the deadliest in the country in two years. ISIS, a Sunni Muslim extremist group, said the attack targeted a gathering of Shiite Muslims, viewed by ISIS as apostates. “I saw bodies everywhere,” said witness Raja Somro. “I saw bodies of women and children.” Pakistani security forces killed dozens of suspected militants on Friday in a crackdown triggered by the attack.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

3. Tillerson makes global diplomatic debut at G-20 meeting
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Thursday in his first foreign trip since becoming Washington’s top diplomat. Tillerson, making his debut at a meeting of diplomats from the Group of 20 major world economies in Bonn, Germany, said his talk with Lavrov touched many topics but focused on the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. Russia has been supporting separatists there, and Tillerson said he urged Moscow to pull back. “As we search for new common ground,” Tillerson said, “we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine.”

Source: The Washington Post

4. Trump picks Alexander Acosta to head Labor Department
President Trump on Thursday announced that he had picked Florida law school dean R. Alexander Acosta as his new labor secretary nominee. Acosta, a former assistant attorney general for human rights and one-time member of the National Labor Relations Board, replaces Trump’s first pick for the job, lawyer and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration after facing opposition over his business record and hiring of an undocumented domestic worker. His ex-wife also filed domestic abuse charges against him decades ago, but dropped them. Trump noted that Acosta had already been confirmed for federal positions three times, and said he would “be a key part of achieving our goal of revitalizing the American economy.” If confirmed, Acosta will be the only Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet.

Source: CNN

5. Flynn reportedly told FBI he didn’t discuss sanctions with Russian ambassador
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn last month denied to FBI agents that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, contrary to what intelligence agencies learned in intercepted communications, current and former U.S. officials told The Washington Post. Lying to the FBI is a felony, so Flynn’s claims in the Jan. 24 interview could expose him to legal trouble. It would be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute him. A spokesman for Flynn, who resigned this week as President Trump’s national security adviser, and the FBI declined to comment.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Dylann Roof admirer planned attack on South Carolina synagogue
A man with white supremacist ties, Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, was arrested this week after buying a gun and ammunition from an undercover agent, and saying he planned to stage a terror attack on a South Carolina synagogue “in the spirit of Dylann Roof,” according to an FBI affidavit filed Thursday. McDowell, 29, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly buying a .40 caliber Glock pistol from an undercover agent posing as an Aryan Nations hitman. McDowell is a convicted felon, so he is not allowed to buy firearms. Over the previous month, McDowell’s Facebook account had posts about wanting to kill Jews, and praising Roof, who has been sentenced to death for murdering nine black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015.

Source: CBS News, The Daily Beast

7. Trump pick to replace Flynn turns down offer
Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, President Trump’s pick to replace former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, reportedly has turned down the position. Harward is a former Navy SEAL and current senior executive at aerospace company Lockheed Martin, a major defense contractor. He would have brought broad experience to the job, and allowed Trump to quickly bounce back from the setback of losing Flynn, whose resignation Trump requested following reports that Flynn failed to tell Vice President Mike Pence the full extent of his pre-inauguration conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Samsung chief arrested over presidential corruption scandal
Acting Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong was arrested early Friday on bribery charges in connection with the influence peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye. A court last month rejected prosecutors’ request to arrest Lee, but this time prosecutors presented new information and a judge said the court acknowledged “the cause and necessity of the arrest.” Prosecutors accuse Samsung of paying $38 million in bribes to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, the president’s confidante at the heart of the scandal.

Source: Reuters

9. House Republicans reveal outline for ObamaCare replacement
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and two House committee chairmen on Thursday unveiled the outline of the House Republican plan to replace ObamaCare. The plan includes tax credits for buying insurance, which would increase with a person’s age but do not change based on income, and incentives for people to open savings accounts to pay for medical expenses. The outline did not mention the cost, or how many people would gain insurance. The Affordable Care Act has extended coverage to 20 million people. The new plan also calls for sharply reducing payments to the 31 states that expanded Medicaid.

Source: The New York Times

10. Immigrants protest Trump policies
Thousands of immigrants in cities across the country stayed home from work and school on Thursday in a nationwide protest to show how important immigrants are to the economy. Many businesses also closed to show support for the protest, dubbed “A Day Without Immigrants.” No estimates were available for the number of people who participated in the strike, which was organized to protest President Trump’s immigration policies, such as stepping up deportations of undocumented immigrants, building a border wall, and temporarily halting travel from some predominantly Muslim nations. “Businesses cannot function without immigrant workers today,” said Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic rights group National Council of La Raza.

Source: The Associated Press

10 things you need to know today: February 16, 2017

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump slams intelligence agencies for ‘illegal’ leaks
President Trump lashed out at U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday, accusing them of “illegal” leaks that brought down his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Trump has been facing potentially damaging questions about contacts with Russia by Flynn and other Trump aides, but the president tried to redirect the outrage, saying in a tweet that the “un-American” leaks were the “real scandal.” Trump reportedly plans to assign Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, to head a review of intelligence agencies. Members of the intelligence community, which reportedly has begun withholding some sensitive details from Trump’s intelligence briefings for fear of leaks, say they worry the review could curb their independence and have a chilling effect on information Trump doesn’t like.

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

2. Trump labor nominee Andrew Puzder drops out
President Trump’s labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration on Wednesday as growing resistance from some Republicans threatened to sink his confirmation. A growing number of Senate Republicans opposed Puzder, largely due to his past employment of an undocumented housekeeper, while Democrats criticized him for several reasons, including his opposition to minimum-wage increases and more generous overtime benefits. Puzder’s withdrawal added to the turmoil already dogging the Trump administration following the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.

Source: The Washington Post

3. Trump says two-state solution isn’t required for Mideast peace
President Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. would drop its insistence that the creation of a Palestinian state be a part of any Middle East peace deal, a departure from a diplomatic goal set in the 1990s. Speaking after meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he was “looking at two-state and one-state” solutions. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” he said, adding that he’d like Israel to “hold back” on further settlement construction in Palestinian territories to help pave the way for a “great peace deal.” Trump vowed to restore strong, smooth relations with Netanyahu, who frequently clashed with former President Barack Obama. Palestinian leaders have given no indication they would accept an alternative to a two-state solution.

Source: The New York Times

4. Defense secretary gives NATO allies ultimatum on defense spending
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday warned NATO allies that the U.S. might alter its relationship with them if they don’t contribute more to their own defense. “America will meet its responsibilities,” he said, “but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.” Mattis delivered the ultimatum during a meeting with other NATO defense ministers. During his campaign, President Trump frequently called for U.S. allies to pay more for their own defense, calling NATO “obsolete” and calling for the defense alliance’s 28 members to pay “their fair share.”

Source: The Washington Post

5. Trump administration proposes tightening ObamaCare enrollment process
The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed changes to ObamaCare that would make it harder for Americans to move in and out of insurance plans by tightening enrollment processes and helping insurers to collect unpaid premiums. The changes could result in higher out-of-pocket costs for policy holders, but insurers welcomed the new rules issued by a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. President Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, a key part of former President Barack Obama’s legacy.

Source: Reuters

6. Pentagon might recommend sending ground troops to Syria
The Defense Department is considering recommending sending U.S. combat troops to Syria, CNN reported Wednesday. The move would be part of an effort to follow through on President Trump’s call for a plan by the end of the month to combat the Islamic State. Small teams of Special Operations forces already are in Syria training and assisting anti-ISIS opposition groups, but if President Trump approves sending conventional ground troops, he will be fundamentally shifting the U.S. war against ISIS. The Obama administration concluded that sending ground troops was too risky.

Source: CNN

7. Senate blocks Obama rule barring mentally ill from buying guns
The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday voted 57-43 to repeal an Obama administration rule barring some mentally ill people from buying guns. The House passed the measure earlier this month, so it now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The rule, which was written after a mentally-impaired man killed 26 people at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, would require the Social Security Administration to report to the FBI background-check database people who receive disability benefits but have been deemed incapable of managing their own financial affairs. It was set to take effect in December, and would impact about 75,000 people. The National Rifle Association opposed the rule as a violation of Second Amendment rights, and the ACLU said it could stereotype mentally ill people as violent.

Source: NPR, The Associated Press

8. Susan Collins says she will vote against Pruitt EPA confirmation
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday that she planned to vote against confirming Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Collins said she and Pruitt “have fundamentally different views of the role and mission” of the agency. Pruitt, as Oklahoma’s attorney general, filed numerous lawsuits against the EPA, opposing its regulations on such things as mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and cross-state air pollution. Collins said she doubts he backs “the agency’s critical mission to protect human health and the environment.” The Trump administration says Pruitt is “an expert in constitutional law” with “a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy.” Collins so far is the only Republican to defect on Pruitt’s nomination, so Republicans should have enough votes to confirm him.

Source: The Washington Post

9. Malaysia arrests two more suspects in Kim Jong Nam killing
Malaysian police said Thursday that they had arrested two more suspects in connection with the airport poisoning death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The first suspect, a woman with Vietnamese travel papers, was arrested Wednesday. A second woman, who had an Indonesian passport, and a man believed to be her boyfriend, were arrested on Thursday. North Korea is suspected of being behind the killing, although no evidence has emerged yet to support the theory. The isolated communist country on Thursday is celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of the late leader Kim Jong Il, father of both Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Nam.

Source: BBC News, The Associated Press

10. Morning Joe blacklists Kellyanne Conway
Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski announced on Wednesday that the MSNBC morning show would stop booking interviews with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway because she is “not credible anymore.” “I don’t believe in fake news, or information that is not true,” Brzezinski said. “Every time I’ve ever seen her on television, something’s askew, off, or incorrect.” Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough said Conway is “out of the loop. She’s in none of the key meetings. … [It’s] bad that a spokesperson in the White House actually goes out and makes things up.” The move came after Conway told reporters on Monday that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had “the full confidence of the president” hours before Flynn resigned.

Source: US Weekly, The Washington Post

10 things you need to know today: February 15, 2017

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Reports: Trump campaign had frequent contact with Russian intelligence
Members of President Trump’s campaign team and other associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing four current and former American officials. Phone calls between the Trump associates and Russian officials reportedly were intercepted around the time U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies found evidence that Russia had hacked Democrats. The Times‘ sources said investigators had found no evidence of collusion, but that the discovery was worrying because Trump often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and called on Russia to steal Hillary Clinton’s emails. CNN, which released a similar report, said Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign chairman, and adviser Michael Flynn, who just stepped down as national security adviser, were among the close Trump aides who had contact with Russian officials; Manafort called the reports “absurd,” and Trump called them “non-sense.”

Source: The New York Times, CNN

2. GOP senators vow to investigate Trump team’s Russia contacts
Several top Republican senators on Tuesday called for an exhaustive investigation into the resignation of President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and continuing questions about Russia’s influence in the administration. “I think we should look into it exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said “General Flynn’s resignation is a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s ranking Democrat, vowed a thorough investigation of “any contact” between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials.

Source: The Washington Post, The New York Times

3. White House says Trump was told Flynn misled Pence
The White House said Tuesday that President Trump was told six days into his presidency that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had discussed sanctions against Russia with Moscow’s U.S. ambassador weeks before Trump took office. Trump, however, waited until last week to share the information with Vice President Mike Pence, who had by then told journalists that Flynn had not discussed sanctions with Russian officials before Trump took office, which would be a potential violation of a rarely invoked law against diplomacy by private citizens. The White House did not immediately say why Trump had kept Pence in the dark, or why White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said hours before Flynn’s resignation that Trump still had “full confidence” in him.

Source: The Associated Press

4. Kim Jong Un’s half-brother killed in Malaysia
The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was murdered Tuesday in Malaysia. Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, had been living outside the isolated communist nation for years. Malaysian media reported that two unidentified women were believed to have killed Kim with a poison needle at Kuala Lumpur’s airport, before fleeing in a taxi. Kim Jong Nam reportedly criticized Kim Jong Un for his youth and inexperience in 2012, saying his younger brother wouldn’t “last long.” Malaysian police said Wednesday that they had arrested a woman with Vietnamese travel documents in connection with the killing.

Source: Bloomberg, USA Today

5. Former store clerk found guilty in 1979 murder of Etan Patz
A New York jury on Tuesday found former Manhattan bodega stock clerk Pedro Hernandez guilty of kidnapping and murdering 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1979, resolving a mystery that helped raise awareness about missing children. New Yorkers, especially parents, agonized over Etan Patz’s disappearance. His photo appeared not only on “missing” posters, TV news, and newspapers, but also on milk cartons, a first. Jurors said they returned from a three-day weekend and, on their ninth day of deliberations, watched Hernandez’s recorded confessions one last time before reaching a verdict. “It’s about time,” said Stanley Patz, Etan’s father.

Source: The New York Times, The Associated Press

6. U.K. government rejects petition against Trump visit
The British government on Tuesday formally rejected an online petition calling for canceling or downgrading a visit by President Trump later this year. The government “recognizes the strong views expressed by the many signatories of this petition, but does not support this petition,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement posted on the petition’s web page. No date for the visit has been set, but the statement said that Prime Minister Theresa May’s invitation to Trump on her January visit to Washington “reflects the importance of the relationship between the United States of America and the United Kingdom.”

Source: CNN

7. Immigrant protected under Obama program detained in Seattle raid
A 23-year-old immigrant brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a child was detained in a Seattle immigration raid in what the man’s lawyers say could be the first such case against someone protected from deportation under former President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. Daniel Ramirez Medina, who has no criminal record, was one of 680 people arrested in a flurry of Trump administration immigration raids last week. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said 75 percent of the people detained had criminal records. Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects an estimated 750,000 immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children from deportation, and offers them work permits.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, Reuters

8. Ethics office calls for White House to discipline Kellyanne Conway
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has called on the White House to discipline counselor Kellyanne Conway for urging the public to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories. Conway, representing the administration in an interview on Fox & Friends last week, was asked about retailers that had dropped Ivanka Trump’s brand, and told viewers to “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff. … I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today everybody, you can find it online.” The OGE subsequently wrote to the White House, saying that although Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated during a press conference … that ‘Kellyanne has been counseled, and that’s all we’re going to go with,’ the OGE urged the White House to investigate “and consider taking disciplinary action against her.”

Source: CBS News, House Oversight Dems

9. Humana says it is pulling out of ObamaCare exchanges
Humana announced Tuesday that it would stop offering health insurance through ObamaCare state marketplaces. It will be the first major health insurance provider to stop selling individual policies on the public exchanges next year. President Trump, who has vowed to replace former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law, pounced on the news as fresh evidence that ObamaCare should be repealed. “ObamaCare continues to fail,” Trump tweeted. Many of the state exchanges appear stable but insurers are complaining about their uncertain future, as Republicans debate a potential replacement.

Source: The New York Times

10. Evacuation order lifted near California’s Oroville Dam
California officials on Tuesday lifted a mandatory evacuation order for nearly 200,000 people downstream from the Oroville Dam about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco. Workers have reduced Lake Oroville’s water level by releasing water through the main spillway so that coming storms won’t send water out an emergency spillway that was in danger of failing. Crews also have filled in the area under the emergency spillway with rocks and slurry to prevent further erosion. A massive hole had developed in the emergency spillway, raising the threat of collapse and catastrophic flooding.

Source: ABC News, The Washington Post

10 things you need to know today: February 14, 2017

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Michael Flynn resigns as national security adviser
Michael Flynn resigned late Monday as President Trump’s national security adviser, after just over three weeks on the job. Flynn quit hours after The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador before Trump’s inauguration, and could be subject to blackmail. Flynn, a retired general, initially denied that he had discussed sanctions with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Vice President Mike Pence backed up that claim in interviews. Flynn said in his resignation letter that he had inadvertently briefed Pence with “incomplete information,” and said he had apologized to Pence and to Trump.

Source: The New York Times, The Washington Post

2. Crews work to repair California dam as storms loom
Crews are rushing to repair the damaged emergency spillway at California’s Oroville Dam on Tuesday, as approaching storms threaten to raise water levels in Lake Oroville, renewing the possibility that the overflow channel could fail. The potential for catastrophic flooding has forced officials to evacuate 188,000 people living downstream from the area, about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco. The water level dropped by about 3.5 feet early Monday, giving crews time for emergency repairs. Forecasters warned that a moderate storm on Wednesday and a “really big and strong storm” on Friday could renew the danger of a catastrophe.

Source: USA Today, Los Angeles Times

3. Trump and Trudeau discuss trade, avoid clash over immigration
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with President Trump at the White House on Monday, where both leaders stressed the importance of their countries’ bond while acknowledging sharp differences over immigration and other policies. Trudeau said he would not lecture Trump over his executive orders seeking to temporarily halt the U.S. refugee program and suspend travel from seven majority-Muslim nations, but that Canada would continue to “pursue our policies of openness” while maintaining security and serving as a “positive example in the world.” Trump said he wanted “to have a big, beautiful, open door” but “we cannot let the wrong people in.”

Source: BBC News

4. A divided Senate confirms Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary
The Senate on Monday narrowly confirmed Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary over strong Democratic opposition. All 52 Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted in favor of confirmation in the 53-47 vote. Democrats said Mnuchin did not belong in the job, accusing him of allowing avoidable foreclosures at Pasadena’s OneWest Bank, which he led after the financial crisis. Republicans said Mnuchin was well qualified. “Under any objective standard, Mr. Mnuchin has ample experience, credentials, and qualifications for this important position,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Monday, accusing Democrats of “pointless delays” to confirming Mnuchin.

Source: Los Angeles Times

5. Suicide bombing kills 13 during Pakistan protest
A suicide bomber detonated explosives on a crowded street outside the provincial legislature in Lahore, Pakistan, on Monday, killing at least 13 people and injuring dozens more. The blast hit as hundreds of pharmacists and drug company officials were protesting peacefully. Two senior police officials and four officers were among the dead. “The spot where the blast took place is always under threat,” said Rana Sanaullah, law minister for Punjab province. The government has put in place complex security arrangements, but the demonstration “gave the opportunity to terrorists to strike,” he said.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Judge denies request to halt Dakota Access Pipeline construction
A federal judge on Monday denied a request from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes to temporarily halt construction of the last stretch of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribes say the oil pipeline would threaten their water source and sacred grounds if it is built on its proposed path under Lake Oahe. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted an easement to Energy Transfer Partners to finish the 1,170-mile pipeline after President Trump signed an executive order calling for reviving the project, which former President Barack Obama halted to explore alternative routes. Protesters continue to oppose the project, but Trump said “everybody is going to be happy in the end.”

Source: Reuters, ABC News

7. Trump’s approval rating hits new low
President Trump’s approval rating has fallen to an all-time low, according to a Gallup tracking poll released Monday. As of Feb. 11, just 40 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 55 percent disapprove. Around the same time in former President Barack Obama’s first term, Obama boasted a 65 percent approval rating and a 21 percent disapproval rating. Trump’s latest numbers mark a steep drop from when he first took office; on Jan. 22, he stood at an even 45 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval rate.

Source: Gallup

8. Virginia judge blocks Trump travel ban
A federal judge in Virginia on Monday temporarily blocked federal officials from enforcing President Trump’s travel ban against residents or university students in the state, marking the latest in a series of setbacks for Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said the ban probably violates First Amendment protection of religious freedom, and would cause “irreparable injury” to Virginia residents and institutions. The executive order barred travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. Brinkema said she did not issue a nationwide injunction because she wanted to “avoid any claim” that it is “defective because of overbreadth.” Earlier in the month, a Seattle judge blocked the ban nationwide, and an appeals court last week ruled against reinstating it.

Source: The Washington Post

9. U.N. condemns North Korea missile launch
The United Nations Security Council on Monday condemned North Korea’s recent missile launch, calling it a “grave violation” of Security Council resolutions. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had called on the Security Council to “hold North Korea accountable” and show its isolated communist leaders that “these launches are unacceptable.” The U.N. secretary-general’s office said Pyongyang “must return to full compliance with its international obligations and to the path of denuclearization.” North Korea rejected the U.N.’s statement, saying its missile program was for self-defense.

Source: ABC News, Reuters

10. U.S. places Venezuelan official on drug-kingpin blacklist
The Treasury Department on Monday put Venezuela’s new executive vice president, Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah, on a blacklist for alleged drug traffickers. The U.S. accused El Aissami, a former minister of justice and interior, of helping to run a vast network that transported drugs from South America to the U.S. and the U.K. The blacklisting freezes El Aissami’s assets in the U.S., and bars him from doing business with U.S. companies. U.S. officials said the move was not meant to punish the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, although diplomatic ties between the U.S. and his socialist government are frayed.

Source: Los Angeles Times

10 things you need to know today: February 13, 2017

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Nearly 200,000 evacuated near California dam
California authorities on Sunday ordered 188,000 people to evacuate their homes after an emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest dam, threatened to fail and cause massive flooding downstream. “This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill,” the National Weather Service said. The evacuation was ordered after engineers spotted a hole in the secondary spillway for the 770-foot-tall dam and warned it could fail within an hour. The water level in Lake Oroville, about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, dropped overnight under the level where it flows over the auxiliary spillway, but officials left the evacuation order in place early Monday.

Source: Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press

2. Adele sweeps top Grammys
Adele swept the Grammys’ top categories on Sunday night, winning Album of the Year for 25 and Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Hello.” Beyonce, who went into the ceremony with a leading nine nominations, won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Lemonade, and her sister, Solange, won Best R&B Performance for “Cranes in the Sky.” Chance the Rapper won his first Grammy, for Best Rap Performance, and picked up two more for Best New Artist and Best Rap Album for Coloring Book. David Bowie won four posthumous Grammys for his last album, Blackstar, which was released just days before he died of cancer in January 2016. Bowie never won a Grammy for an individual album or song while he was alive. Band-mate Donny McCaslin accepted the rock performance award on Bowie’s behalf, calling him “an artistic genius and a funny-as-hell guy.”

Source: Reuters, NPR

3. Top White House aide accuses judges of usurping Trump’s power on immigration
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said on Sunday news talk shows that the blocking of President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees amounted to a “judicial usurpation of power.” Miller, the author of the controversial order to temporarily suspend a refugee program and travel from seven majority-Muslim nations, said the White House is considering a broad menu of options, from appealing last week’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting a request to reinstate the ban, to writing a new executive order. Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin said that accusing judges of usurping presidential authority shows “an absurd lack of appreciation for the separation of powers.”

Source: Reuters, The Washington Post

4. U.N. Security Council holding emergency meeting on North Korea
The U.S., Japan, and South Korea have requested a United Nations Security Council meeting, expected to take place Monday, on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch. South Korea says it expects more such tests, which it calls “serious military and security threats.” North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was on site to supervise the test, which his government declared a success. The banned missile launch, conducted early Sunday, was interpreted as an early test of President Trump, who has vowed to be tough on Pyongyang. Trump had a restrained reaction, appearing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Palm Beach and reaffirming America’s commitment to stand by Japan, without mentioning North Korea. Abe called the launch “absolutely intolerable.”

Source: The Associated Press

5. Flynn apologizes under mounting pressure over Russia contact
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn reportedly is under pressure that could jeopardize his job due to his pre-inaugural conversations with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, administration officials said Sunday. Flynn had said he and Kislyak never discussed sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials backed him up on that. Flynn now admits he did speak with the ambassador about sanctions, multiple times, and there are transcripts of his phone calls, officials say. Flynn reportedly has apologized to Pence. Trump has not commented on the matter, but he told reporters he would look into it.

Source: Reuters, The Washington Post

6. Anti-Trump protests break out in Mexico
Thousands of people in more than a dozen Mexican cities on Sundayprotested against President Trump, criticizing the U.S. leader for insulting Mexican immigrants and accusing their own president, Enrique Pena Nieto, of failing to stand up to him. In an extraordinary show of unity, people from across the country turned out waving Mexican flags, carrying signs in English and Spanish, and hoisting pinatas resembling Trump bearing pro-Mexico slogans. “He’s such a bad man and he shouldn’t act the way he does,” said one marcher, 62-year-old Jorge Ruiz.

Source: Reuters

7. Trump ally says Reince Priebus ‘in way over his head’
A longtime friend of President Trump, Newsmax Media chief executive Christopher Ruddy, said on Sunday that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was “in way over his head.” Two days earlier, Ruddy had spoken privately with Trump over drinks. Ruddy said Trump should replace Priebus. “A lot of people have been saying, ‘Look, Donald has some problems,’ and I think he realizes that he’s got to make some changes going forward,” Ruddy told The Washington Post. Ruddy said “Reince is the problem,” because the former Republican National Committee chairman is “not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration rollout. This should’ve been a win for Donald, not two or three weeks of negative publicity.” Ruddy said he was speaking for himself, not Trump.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Missouri KKK leader found dead
Frank Ancona, an outspoken Missouri Ku Klux Klan leader, was found dead on a river bank over the weekend. An autopsy reportedly determined he had been shot in the head. Ancona, 51, was found near the Big River by a family on a fishing outing. He was last seen by his family on Wednesday, and a Forestry Service employee found his vehicle on a service road. Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen said on Sunday that nobody had been arrested in connection with Ancona’s death yet, “but that may change tomorrow.”

Source: Park Hills Daily Journal, ABC News

9. Germany rules out terrorism after dozens sickened at airport
Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from Germany’s Hamburg Airport on Sunday after dozens of people were affected by an airborne irritant. A spokesman for the federal police in the northern German city said 68 people had suffered eye pain and coughing, but investigators had found “no evidence” the incident was a terrorist attack. He said it was probably caused by a cartridge of pepper spray found in a bin in which travelers discard liquids before boarding.

Source: Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post

10. Jazz singer Al Jarreau dies at 76
Grammy-winning jazz singer Al Jarreau died Sunday, after canceling the rest of his 2017 concert dates and retiring from touring due to exhaustion. He was 76. A Feb. 8 post to his official Twitter account said it was with “complete sorrow” that Jarreau had decided to stop traveling to perform on orders from his doctors. A post on his website last week said he was receiving treatment for exhaustion in a Los Angeles hospital and “improving slowly.” The Milwaukee native won seven Grammys over a half-century career. His biggest hit was “We’re in This Love Together” from the 1981 album Breakin’ Away.

Source: Entertainment Weekly, The Detroit News

10 things you need to know today: February 12, 2017

Jung Yeon-Je/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. North Korea test-fires ballistic missile into Sea of Japan
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan between Japan and North Korea on Sunday, a provocation likely timed to coincide with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s weekend meeting with President Trump. “North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable. North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” Abe said in in Palm Beach, Florida, where he was staying with the president. “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” Trump remarked at the joint news conference. South Korea has also condemned the test, which is believed to have used a midrange missile, not an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon.

Source: CNN, Politico

2. Protesters demonstrate nationwide over federal Planned Parenthood funding
Hot on the heels of January’s annual March for Life demonstration in Washington, more than 200 protests in 45 states were held Saturday to oppose federal funding for Planned Parenthood. About 150 counter-demonstrations were scheduled as well, with the size of the combined protests ranging from dozens to thousands of people. Government funding is Planned Parenthood’s single largest source of revenue, mostly via Medicaid, though it also receives corporate and individual donations, as well as clinic revenue. Planned Parenthood supporters note that federal money can fund abortions only in a few circumstances, while critics argue those limits are meaningless because money is fungible.

Source: ABC News, Reuters

3. Advocacy groups clash with feds over immigration enforcement surge
The nature of a surge in arrests of undocumented immigrants this week has become a point of contention between immigration advocacy groups and the federal government. Washington maintains Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which conducted the raids that led to several hundred arrests, is simply pursuing business as usual. “This operation was in the planning stages before the current administration issued its [immigration] executive order,” said David Marin, an ICE official in California. With the support of some congressional Democrats, activists aren’t so sure. “These activities have caused fear and uncertainty for many constituents,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) said in a letter to ICE with a list of questions about the arrests.

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

4. Trump products dropped by Sears, Kmart
Retailers Sears and Kmart, which share a parent company, announced Saturday they will no longer carry items from President Trump’s brand of home products. The decision was described as part of a broader “initiative to optimize…online product assortment,” but it has inevitably been linked to Nordstrom’s recent announcement that it would no longer sell Ivanka Trump products. The Nordstrom decision was likewise cast as a matter of business, not politics, but the president took personal umbrage. “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom,” he tweeted after that news. On Saturday, Trump again tweeted in Ivanka’s defense, saying she has been “abused” by the media.

Source: ABC News, Politico

5. Trump bashes Mark Cuban’s intelligence after his warning to CEOs
Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban warned American CEOs to be careful in their dealings with President Trump in comments published Friday by The Star-Telegram, a newspaper in Fort Worth, Texas. “Do what you think is right,” Cuban said. “Be an American citizen first. In the bigger scheme of things, our country benefits from peaceful activism a lot more than it benefits from one more shoe being sold, or one more basketball ticket being sold, for that matter.” Sundaymorning, Trump responded on Twitter. “I know Mark Cuban well,” he wrote. “He backed me big-time but I wasn’t interested in taking all of his calls. He’s not smart enough to run for president!” Though Cuban did initially praise Trump’s campaign, he ultimately endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Source: The Star-Telegram, Sporting News

6. Beyoncé, Adele expected to dominate 2017 Grammys
The 2017 Grammy Awards will be held Sunday evening, hosted by late night’s James Corden and featuring special tributes to Prince and George Michael. Performances are scheduled for Adele (who has five nominations), Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Chance The Rapper, Daft Punk, Lady Gaga, and Metallica, among others. There is speculation that Beyoncé, who has nine nominations, the most of any artist, may perform as well. The show will also mark Beyoncé’s first public appearance since her announcement that she is pregnant with twins. The Grammys will air on CBS beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern, with a red carpet preview starting at 7:30 p.m.

Source: Entertainment Weekly, E News

7. WWII-era bomb discovery in Greece forces evacuation, museum trip for refugees
An unexploded bomb from World War II was removed from under a gas station in Thessaloniki, Greece, on Sunday. Authorities ordered evacuation of more than 70,000 people so the 500-pound weapon could be transported and safely defused at a firing range. Among the evacuees was a group of about 450 Syrian refugees living in a refugee camp housed in a former toilet paper factory nearby. They were taken on a trip to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki while the bomb was deactivated, an outing organized at the refugees’ request as a respite from what are described as “prison-like” living conditions in the factory.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

8. Yale University to rename Calhoun College after years of controversy
Yale University announced Saturday it will change the name of Calhoun College, one of the school’s 12 undergraduate residences, so it no longer honors John C. Calhoun, a 19th century Yale alumnus who served in multiple Cabinet roles and as vice president of the United States. “Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” said Yale President Peter Salovey. The college will be renamed to honor Grace Murray Hopper, a Yale mathematics alumna and Navy rear admiral who was a pioneer in the field of computer science.

Source: CNN, The Associated Press

9. Volunteers help rescue 300 beached whales in New Zealand
Volunteers in New Zealand struggled this weekend to keep pace with hundreds of pilot whales that accidentally beached themselves and needed assistance returning to the sea. A group of more than 400 whales were first found on the beach Friday. About 300 of them died before they could be rescued, but roughly 100 members of the pod were refloated. Saturday morning, some 240 additional whales were beached in the same three-mile stretch, almost all of them different from the rescued 100. On Sunday, rescue efforts were completed after a high tide allowed around 200 of the new whales to refloat themselves.

Source: The Associated Press, The Week

10. Melissa McCarthy returns to SNL as Sean Spicer
Melissa McCarthy reprised her role as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in Saturday Night Live‘s cold open this week. As “Spicey,” an increasingly agitated McCarthy explains President Trump’s plan for “extreme vetting” of would-be immigrants and refugees using Barbie dolls. Of one, Spicey declares, “We know she is okay, because she is blonde, and so she gets in. Easy. We understand that.” Next, a Moana doll applies for a visa. “Uh oh,” Spicey says. “We are going to pat her down, and then we are going to read her emails and if we don’t like the answers — which we won’t — boom, Guantanamo Bay.” The first time McCarthy played Spicer, he responded with amusement, while President Trump was reportedly irritated by the sketch.

Source: Saturday Night Live, The Washington Post

10 things you need to know today: February 11, 2017

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. President Trump floats ‘brand new’ immigration order after court rejection
President Donald Trump on Friday proposed the idea of signing a “brand new order” to limit immigration after his previous executive order barring U.S. entrance from seven majority-Muslim nations was twice defeated in court. “We’ll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country,” he said. Earlier this month, Trump promised to take the original order all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, a plan he now seems to be reconsidering. Trump’s Friday comments emphasized speed as a security necessity, a message he reiterated Saturday morning, tweeting, “Our legal system is broken! ‘77% of refugees allowed into U.S. since travel reprieve hail from seven suspect countries.’ (WT) SO DANGEROUS!” Those countries produce a high volume of refugees because residents seek to escape conditions of war and terrorism.

Source: The New York Times, The Hill

2. Hundreds arrested in surge of immigration raids in at least 6 states
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least six states this week in a surge of what federal officials labeled “routine enforcement actions.” The raids targeted illegal immigrants known to have criminal records beyond their immigration status, though some immigrants without a history of crime were arrested as well. President Trump has promised to deport up to 3 million undocumented immigrants with a criminal background, after which he will consider deporting up to 9 million more without criminal records. President Obama deported 2.5 million people from 2009 to 2015, the largest deportation tally of any president in history and a larger figure than all 20th century deportations combined.

Source: The Washington Post, Reuters

3. Protests erupt in New York City, Los Angeles over immigration raids
Hundreds of protesters turned out in New York City and Los Angeles Thursday and Friday nights to protest news of a surge in arrests of undocumented immigrants in at least six states. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says this week’s arrests were merely an escalation of routine raids targeting illegal immigrants with criminal records. “Examples would include known street gang members, child sex offenders, and deportable foreign nationals with significant drug trafficking convictions,” said an agency representative. But protesters contends that is an inaccurate description of the raids, which they believe have broken up families and affected many people with no criminal history. “Oftentimes folks’ liberties and their rights are violated during ICE raids,” said Los Angeles protester Jessica Valenzuela, “where they’re picked up without having adequate access to counsel, and that’s one of the biggest concerns.”

Source: The Hill, KTLA 5

4. U.S. investigators reportedly confirm some details of Russia dossier
U.S. investigators on Friday confirmed some details of the 35-page dossier claiming Russia has compromising information on President Trump, CNN reports. Previously, investigators were unable to verify the claims, which were compiled by a retired British intelligence agent and revealed to the public Jan. 10. CNN said that while the dossier’s more “salacious” contents remain unverified, investigators have corroborated details about some of the communications “between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals.” No specific confirmations were released. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration continues “to be disgusted by CNN’s fake news reporting.”

Source: CNN

5. Trump reaffirms ‘steadfast’ alliance with Japan in joint press conference
President Trump welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “the very famous” White House Friday, praising Japan as an “important and steadfast ally” in a joint press conference. Abe in turn praised Trump’s “uphill struggle” to become president and encouraged economic partnership between the countries. “Of course there are disagreements [between Japan and the U.S.], but we should not close down a dialogue just by pointing to the differences,” Abe said. He did not comment on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the deal brokered by President Obama which he supports and Trump opposes. Abe and his wife have joined the First Family at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the weekend.

Source: Reuters, C-SPAN

6. Trump raises voter fraud issue in Senate meeting
President Trump reportedly complained about voter fraud in a meeting with 10 senators Thursday intended to be a discussion about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Politico reports Trump said he and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — who lost her re-election bid and is now serving as a Capitol Hill liaison for Trump on Gorsuch’s nomination — were victims of a rigged election. The senators’ response was reportedly an “uncomfortable silence.” Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub on Friday called the president’s comments “astonishing” in a statement responding to the story. “Allegations of this magnitude cannot be ignored,” she said, asking Trump to promptly share his evidence with law enforcement.

Source: Politico, CNN

7. Protesters deny Betsy DeVos entry during first K-12 school visit
Protesters blocked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from entering the Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C., on Fridayduring her first visit to a K-12 public school since her swearing-in ceremony Tuesday. Video showed DeVos attempting to enter the school’s side door, only to be physically denied entry by a small group of protesters. She eventually entered the school through another door. Parents and teachers demonstrated at the school to protest the secretary’s record of criticism of the public school system and support for private school vouchers.

Source: ABC 7 News, The Washington Post

8. U.S. rejects Palestinian U.N. envoy to Libya
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Friday rejected U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ selection of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new U.N. envoy to Libya. “For too long the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel,” Haley said in a statement indicating the Trump administration “was disappointed” in the pick. A response from Guterres’ office said Fayyad was chosen solely because of his “recognized personal qualities and his competence for that position.” It is unclear whether Fayyad’s candidacy is permanently ended by Washington’s opposition.

Source: Politico, Reuters

9. Top Federal Reserve regulator resigns
Daniel Tarullo, a member of the Federal Reserve Bank’s board of governors, on Friday announced his intention to resign in April, a move that gives President Trump three seats to fill on the board. Tarullo took his position in 2009 and “led the Fed’s work to craft a new framework for ensuring the safety and soundness of our financial system following the financial crisis,” said Fed Chair Janet Yellen. Trump is expected to choose a replacement with a less activist approach to regulation, particularly after the president signaled his interest in repealing some of the Dodd-Frank rules Tarullo helped enforce.

Source: Fortune, Reuters

10. Russia may extradite Snowden as a ‘gift’ to Trump
U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly have evidence the Kremlin is considered extraditing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden from Russia to the United States as a “gift” to “curry favor” with President Trump. Snowden’s lawyer says he has “received no such signals and has no new reason for concern,” but Snowden himself touted the report Friday evening as proof that he is not on Moscow’s payroll. “Finally: irrefutable evidence that I never cooperated with Russian intel. No country trades away spies, as the rest would fear they’re next,” Snowden tweeted. President Trump has said Snowden is a “total traitor” who should be “executed.”

Source: NBC News, Fox News

10 things you need to know today: February 9, 2017

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Jeff Sessions confirmed as attorney general
The Senate confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general on Wednesday night after a contentious and racially charged debate. No Republicans defected in the 52-to-47 party-line vote, the latest example of the partisan battles over President Trump’s most controversial Cabinet nominations. Sessions was confirmed a day after the GOP leadership silenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for reading a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King accusing Sessions of using his power as a prosecutor to “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Warren had violated a seldom-used rule against accusing a colleague of conduct unbecoming a senator. Several other Democrats later read the King letter and entered it into the Senate record with no objections.

Source: The New York Times, The Hill

2. SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch calls Trump judiciary attacks ‘demoralizing’
President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, told lawmakers that Trump’s attacks on judges who are considering a challenge to his immigration order were “demoralizing” and “disheartening,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Wednesday after meeting with Gorsuch. A member of the “sherpa” team helping Gorsuch navigate the confirmation process confirmed the comments. Trump has called the jurist who halted his travel ban a “so-called judge,” and said a hearing by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was “disgraceful” and “so political.”

Source: The Washington Post, The New York Times

3. Trump slams Nordstrom for dropping Ivanka Trump brand
President Trump on Wednesday criticized the Nordstrom department store chain for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom,” the president tweeted. “She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” Nordstrom shares briefly dropped but quickly recovered. Nordstrom said it dropped the brand due to poor sales. A social media campaign called Grab Your Wallet has called for boycotts of stores that carry Trump family products. T.J. Maxx and Marshalls on Wednesday told employees to stop displaying Ivanka Trump merchandise separately, and discard the brand’s signs.

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

4. Yemen says U.S. ground raids not prohibited, but need approval
Officials in Yemen on Wednesday said they were conducting a “reassessment” of a Jan. 28 U.S. commando raid on a local al Qaeda affiliate. They said the government had not withdrawn permission for future U.S. commando raids, as The New York Times reported, although it will have to approve any new U.S. ground missions in advance. The raid left a U.S. service member dead. Human rights groups say as many as two dozen civilians, including an 8-year-old girl, also were killed in the crossfire during a firefight between Navy SEALs and militants. A U.S. defense official said “nothing has changed” in Yemen. Officials in the country, however, said that “the green light that the U.S. had for conducting ground missions is now red.”

Source: CNN, USA Today

5. Six Afghan Red Cross workers fatally shot
Gunmen killed six Afghan staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday, and abducted two others. The Red Cross convoy was attacked as the workers were distributing livestock in a remote area in northern Afghanistan where Islamic State militants operate. “This is a huge tragedy,” said the ICRC’s president, Peter Maurer. “We are in shock.” The attack occurred a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Afghan Supreme Court building in the capital city of Kabul, killing 19 people.

Source: Los Angeles Times

6. 7 Phoenix protesters arrested trying to block woman’s deportation
Police arrested seven people on Wednesday after protesters tried to block U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement vans they feared were carrying a mother of two headed for deportation. The protest erupted after the woman, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, was taken into custody after appearing for a routine check-in. Dozens of activists blocked the gates at the immigration office in central Phoenix, thinking the 36-year-old woman was being sent back to Mexico. The protesters were mostly peaceful, but police said on Twitter that “despite repeated warnings, some [protesters] engaging in criminal acts” refused to cooperate.

Source: CNN

7. Russian opposition politician convicted of fraud
Russian opposition politician Aleksei A. Navalny was convicted on fraud charges on Wednesday, disqualifying him from running for president next year. President Vladimir Putin is expected to run for re-election, and the verdict removes a Kremlin critic widely considered to be Putin’s only viable rival. Navalny, who received a five-year suspended prison sentence and $8,400 fine, said he would appeal. His supporters say the charge that he embezzled $500,000 worth of timber from a state-owned company was politically motivated. “We don’t recognize this verdict,” Navalny said, “and it will be overturned.”

Source: The New York Times

8. Kenyan court blocks plan to close world’s largest refugee camp
Kenya’s high court on Thursday blocked a government plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp, the largest in the world. The government last year issued an order to forcibly repatriate about 260,000 Somali refugees living there. The camp was set up in 1991 to accommodate people fleeing conflict in Somalia, and some families have lived in the facility for more than two decades. The government said closing the camp was necessary for national security, as the Somalia-based al-Shabab militant group had planned attacks inside the camp, but the court said the government’s plan amounted to group persecution.

Source: BBC News

9. Northeast prepares for snowstorm one day after record warm temperatures
The Northeast braced for the biggest snowstorm of this winter on Thursday, a day after record warm temperatures reached the 60s as far north as New York City. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. “What feels like a summer day almost, now, and then tomorrow a blizzard. But it’s going to be a blizzard and New Yorkers should get ready.” New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston closed schools on Thursday as some areas expected more than a foot of snow, and more than 2,700 flights were canceled.

Source: USA Today, NBC News

10. Disney to open ‘Star Wars Land’ theme park attraction in 2019
Disney plans to open “Star Wars Land” sections of Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida in 2019, company CEO Bob Iger announced this week in a call with investors. The attractions will be Disney’s largest ever single-themed expansion. “Star Wars Land,” which was originally proposed in 2015, will take guests to “a never-before-seen planet — a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space — where Star Wars characters and their stories come to life.” Visitors will be able to experience a battle between stormtroopers and resistance fighters, and pilot the Millennium Falcon as it comes under enemy fire.