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10 things you need to know today: February 25, 2016

Harold Maass
AP Photo/ John Bazemore
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1.

Rivals aim to slow Trump's momentum in GOP debate

The Republican presidential candidates head into Thursday night's debate with Donald Trump's nearest rivals, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, needing breakout moments to disrupt the frontrunner's momentum before the Super Tuesday nominating contests next week. Trump has won in three consecutive states — New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — and polls predict he'll dominate on Super Tuesday. Rubio, who narrowly beat Cruz for second place in Nevada, said Wednesday that once the five-candidate field narrows "a clear alternative to Donald Trump" will emerge.

2.

Harry Reid endorses Hillary Clinton

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Wednesday that he was endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Nevada Democrat urged his party to unite behind the former secretary of state, senator, and first lady as she battles a surging Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "I think the middle class would be better served by Hillary," Reid said. "I also think she's the woman to be the first president of the United states that's a female."

3.

Obama promises Supreme Court nominee with "a sterling record"

President Obama wrote in SCOTUSblog that he plans to nominate a new Supreme Court justice who has "a sterling record," "a deep respect for the judiciary's role," and "an understanding of the way the world really works." Obama said it would be hard for Senate Republicans to follow through on their threat to not even consider his nominee without appearing politically motivated. Minority Leader Harry Reid suggested a Republican, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and the White House reportedly is vetting him.

4.

Cuba eases restrictions on several dissidents ahead of Obama's visit

Cuba eased travel restrictions Wednesday on several prominent dissidents ahead of President Obama's March 21-22 trip to the Communist Caribbean island. Seven members of a group of 11 dissidents imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring were told that as a reward for good behavior they were being granted one-time permission to travel abroad. Obama's critics have said his trip rewards the Cuban government despite ongoing human rights abuses. The White House said Obama continues to press for greater freedom for the Cuban people.

5.

Oregon wildlife refuge occupiers plead not guilty

Sixteen people accused of participating in the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs. The 41-day standoff ended two weeks ago when the last four protesters surrendered. Occupation leader Ammon Bundy and others had been captured earlier on a road near the Oregon refuge. Bundy, his brother Ryan, and 14 others entered not-guilty pleas to one count of conspiracy each stemming from the armed protest against federal control over public lands in the West.

6.

Apple works on making it even tougher to hack into iPhones

Apple engineers are working on security upgrades to make iPhones even harder — even "impossible" — to break into, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The changes involve methods like the ones federal investigators want help bypassing to access data on a locked iPhone used by one of the killers in the 2015 San Bernardino attack. The security upgrades could create a major new hurdle for law enforcement agencies even if the FBI wins its current court fight for an iPhone backdoor that Apple CEO Tim Cook says would be "the software equivalent to a cancer."

7.

Death toll from tornadoes in South rises to seven

At least four people in eastern Virginia were killed Wednesday by tornadoes stirred up by a storm system that first spawned twisters along the Gulf Coast. The death toll from the violent weather had reached seven by the end of the day — three people were killed in Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, and dozens of others were injured. Tornado watches were posted from South Carolina to New Jersey.

8.

Target's online sales surge

Target reported Wednesday that its online sales had jumped by 34 percent in the last quarter, which included the critical holiday shopping season. Digital sales for the industry overall grew by 9 percent in November and December, according to the National Retail Federation, and Walmart gained just 8 percent online in the quarter. Target's disproportional gains signaled progress in its effort to establish itself as a powerful force in e-commerce, even though online sales remain just 5 percent of its total.

9.

Egyptian leader acknowledges terrorists behind Sinai crash

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi conceded Wednesday that terrorists caused the October crash of a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula. All 224 people on the flight were killed when the Metrojet Airbus A321-200 disintegrated in midair shortly after leaving the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility, and Russian and Western authorities concluded a bomb downed the plane. Sisi previously dismissed such claims as "propaganda," but now says "terrorists" carried out the attack to damage Egypt's tourism industry and its relations with Russia.

10.

Texas court throws out criminal charge against Rick Perry

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday dismissed abuse-of-power accusations against former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry in 2014 on charges of pressuring Austin's district attorney to resign by threatening to block state financing for her office's anticorruption unit. The accusations loomed over Perry during his failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Tony Buzbee, a Houston lawyer who represented Perry, said the ruling was "a long time coming."

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