March 24, 2014
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Hilal Assad, a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been killed by rebels, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency. The Islamic Front, an umbrella group made up of seven Islamist factions, claimed responsibility for his killing, which took place near the Turkish border crossing of Kasab. Hilal Assad was the leader of the pro-Assad paramilitary National Defense Forces in the Latakia province. Catherine Garcia

8:14 p.m. ET
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Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday it would take over the functions of congress, leading the opposition party to label President Nicolas Maduro a "dictator" Thursday.

The opposition won the majority of congress in 2015, and since then, the court has overturned most of their decisions, Reuters reports. In its ruling, the court said, "As long as the situation of contempt in the National Assembly continues, this constitutional chamber guarantees congressional functions will be exercised by this chamber of another chosen organ." The court alleges that there is contempt because three former lawmakers were accused of buying votes, and parliamentary leaders did not properly handle the case.

Maduro's critics say he is trying to consolidate power and keep the opposition down, with National Assembly President Julio Borges declaring Maduro "has carried out a coup d'etat. This is a dictatorship." Maduro's term is up in January 2019, and is unpopular due to the country's economic crisis, lack of food and medicine, and high inflation. Several countries in Latin America have spoken out against what's happening in Venezuela, and socialist Maduro has said there is a "right-wing regional pact" against his government. The United States has called the Supreme Court's move a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela." Catherine Garcia

7:21 p.m. ET
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During a Thursday hearing for the Senate Intelligence Committee's probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) revealed that people who worked on his failed presidential bid were the targets of foreign cyber attackers.

Rubio said that in July 2016, not long after he announced he was running for reelection to the Senate, "former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia. That effort was unsuccessful." A second attempt took place one day ago, he added, going after the same people and coming from "an IP address from an unknown location in Russia." This effort was also a failure.

Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Program on National Security, testified in front of the committee, and told the senators that "Russia's overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum. Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered through these efforts." Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) shared during the hearing that hacking attempts had been made against his office as well. Catherine Garcia

6:53 p.m. ET
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President Trump's former national security adviser, Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has told the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees he will agree to be interviewed by officials investigating possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, The Wall Street Journal reports.

During the campaign, Flynn was one of Trump's advisers, and in February, he resigned as national security adviser after it was revealed he communicated with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump's inauguration at a time when former President Barack Obama was about to announce sanctions against Russia due to its meddling in the election. His attorney declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal. Catherine Garcia

5:54 p.m. ET
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Despite the fact that chlorpyrifos have been banned from consumer products and residential use in the United States for more than 15 years and multiple studies have suggested the chemicals can have a negative impact on cognitive development in children, the Environmental Protection Agency's new head, Scott Pruitt, signed an order on Wednesday that will let farmers continue to spray the pesticide on several crops, including wheat, apples, citrus, and corn.

The Obama administration recommended banning chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate originally developed to serve as a nerve agent weapon, and the Pesticide Action Network and Natural Resources Defense Council both petitioned the EPA in 2007 to ban the chemical; Pruitt denied the petition Wednesday, and said he made his decision based on "sound science." "The new administration's agency ignored their own findings that all exposures to chlorpyrifos on foods, in drinking water, and from pesticide drift into schools, homes, and playgrounds are unsafe," Kristin Schafer, policy director at Pesticide Action Network, said in a statement.

Every year in the United States, five to 10 million pounds of the chemical are sprayed on crops. Chlorpyrifos is manufactured by DowAgroSciences, which in January objected to the ban. In California, its use has been severely restricted, and it can't be sprayed near schools and other locations when winds are clocking in at 10 mph or more, the Los Angeles Times reports. A U.C. Berkeley study of 7-year-old children living in California's Salinas Valley who were exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos in utero found that they had slightly lower IQ scores than their peers; Columbia University discovered similar findings during their own study. Catherine Garcia

5:43 p.m. ET
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Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, allowing a resolution rolling back federal funding for abortion providers including Planned Parenthood to move forward. After a final Senate vote that will reportedly happen Friday, the legislation will likely head to President Trump's desk, where it is expected to be signed into law.

The measure undoes a law enacted under former President Barack Obama that prevents states from blocking money for family planning clinics that provide abortions. If passed, states would be allowed to withhold funding to abortion providers.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who has been out since Feb. 20 recovering from back surgery, made an appearance to vote in favor of the measure. Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) joined Democrats in voting against it. Becca Stanek

5:00 p.m. ET
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Thursday signed a measure that rolled back the state's controversial "bathroom law" that required people use public restrooms and locker rooms based on what's on their birth certificate, not their gender identity.

"This was about more than sports and jobs, it was about discrimination and it was about North Carolina's reputation," Cooper said. "It was about wanting us to work toward ending discrimination, and I could not tolerate having HB2 be the law of the land in North Carolina." A compromise on the bill between Cooper and Republicans was made on Wednesday night, and on Thursday the state Senate passed it 32-16 and the House 70-48.

After HB2 passed, several businesses announced they would cut ties with North Carolina, and the NCAA said it would not consider holding championship games there until HB2 was repealed. The new bill repeals the bathroom law, but prevents local governments from passing or amending nondiscrimination ordinances until December 2020. Several LGBT groups say the bill does not safeguard transgender people, and the ACLU tweeted, "Disappointed the #NCGA just voted for a bill which fails to end LGBT discrimination in a move to put basketball over civil rights." Catherine Garcia

4:50 p.m. ET
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Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democratic lawmaker from West Virginia who has been known to support the GOP's agenda, announced Thursday he will vote in favor of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Manchin is the first Democrat to announce support for Gorsuch.

"Senators have a constitutional obligation to advice and consent on a nominee to fill this Supreme Court vacancy and, simply put, we have a responsibility to do our jobs as elected officials," Manchin said in a statement. He said that after meeting with Gorsuch and watching him testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has found him to be "an honest and thoughtful man." "I hold no illusions that I will agree with every decision Judge Gorsuch may issue in the future, but I have not found any reasons why this jurist should not be a Supreme Court justice," Manchin said.

Many Democrats, still frustrated by Republicans' refusal to grant a hearing to former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court pick, have vowed to oppose Gorsuch. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last week after Gorsuch's hearing that he would vote against Gorsuch's confirmation. He requested that Democrats join him in blocking an up-or-down vote on Trump's pick.

Even with Manchin's support, Republicans still fall short of the 60 votes needed to secure Gorsuch's confirmation. If Republicans can't get an additional seven Democrats to support Gorsuch, they may resort to the "nuclear option" of eliminating the Supreme Court nominee filibuster. Becca Stanek

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