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February 24, 2016

Senate Republicans took the pretty brazen step on Tuesday of officially declaring they won't even hold hearings on President Obama's coming nominee to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. "We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas). But Republicans have also been citing precedent. On Monday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (Iowa) said that not confirming justices during an election year was simply following "the Biden rules," referring to a recently unearthed clip of Vice President Joe Biden in June 1992.

At the time, Biden was Senate judiciary chairman, and his speech reiterates the so-called Thurmond Rule (which, incidentally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said "doesn't exist" in 2008). In Biden's speech, highlights of which you can watch below, Biden urged then-President George H.W. Bush not to nominate a Supreme Court justice if a member of the court resigned in the summer or late fall, saying that if he did, "the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over."

On its surface, that's pretty good gotcha politics. But the liberal site ThinkProgress went back and looked at the rest of the speech, and it turns out that 10 minutes after the part of the speech highlighted by conservatives, Biden called for a compromise candidate: "If the president consults and cooperates with the Senate or moderates his selections absent consultation, then his nominees may enjoy my support as did Justices [Anthony] Kennedy and [David] Souter." There were no Supreme Court vacancies that year, but Biden's committee approved 11 federal appellate judges in 1992.

Members of both parties have flip-flopped pretty shamelessly on Supreme Court nominations during election years, but as Jonathan Chait notes at New York, the GOP argument that they are "merely following historical precedent... is demonstrably false." And Biden's 1992 floor speech doesn't change that. Peter Weber

9:42 p.m. ET
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Helium is used for a variety of things — to keep satellite instruments cool, to fill balloons, to clean rocket engines — which is why researchers are ecstatic over the discovery of a giant helium gas field in Tanzania's East African Rift Valley, estimated at more than 54 billion cubic feet.

"This is a game-changer for the future security of society's helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away," Prof. Chris Ballentine of Oxford University's Earth Sciences Department told the BBC. Helium is formed by the steady radioactive decay of terrestrial rock, and researchers say in the Rift Valley, volcanic activity is releasing helium buried in old rocks that becomes trapped in shallower gas fields. Because the world's helium supply was being depleted, the price has gone up 500 percent over the last 15 years.

Researchers say the amount of helium found in just one section of the Rift Valley is enough to fill more than 1 million MRI scanners, and now they just need to determine the best area to drill. "Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe but it's exceedingly rare on Earth," Prof. John Gluyas of Durham University's Department of Earth Sciences told the BBC. "Moreover, any helium that you do find if you're not careful will escape, just like a party balloon it rises and rises in the atmosphere and eventually escapes the Earth's gravity altogether." Catherine Garcia

8:14 p.m. ET
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A man who survived the coordinated attack Tuesday at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport said he saw one of the suicide bombers shoot people indiscriminately before he blew himself up.

Paul Roos, 77, told Reuters he was getting ready to board a plane back to his home in Cape Town, South Africa, when he saw the attacker "randomly" open fire as he walked through the terminal. "He was just firing at anyone coming in front of him," he said. "He was wearing all black. His face was not masked. I was 50 meters away from him."

Roos said he ducked behind a counter with his wife, but soon stood up to see what was going on. "Two explosions went off shortly after one another," he said. "By that time he had stopped shooting. He turned around and started coming towards us. He was holding his gun inside his jacket. He looked around anxiously to see if anyone was going to stop him and then went down the escalator…We heard some more gunfire and then another explosion, and then it was over." Catherine Garcia

8:04 p.m. ET
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Update 8:04 p.m.: The Turkish prime minister said at least 36 people were killed and 147 injured Tuesday in a coordinated suicide bombing at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport by three attackers. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozag told CNN no bombs were actually detonated within airport buildings; one blast occurred on the pavement outside the terminal and another at the airport entrance security gate. A Turkish official told Reuters the police fired at the attackers right before they reached a security checkpoint, and that's when they blew themselves up. Our original post appears below.

Istanbul's Ataturk Airport was hit by two explosions Tuesday, leaving 10 people dead and wounding at least 20 others, Turkey's justice minister said. Officials have reported that the explosions were the work of two suicide bombers. Gunfire was also reportedly "heard from the car park at the airport," one witness told Reuters, and taxis are reportedly shuttling injured people away from the airport.

The Ataturk Airport features X-ray scanners at a checkpoint at the entrance to the international terminal, and then a separate security checkpoint further inside the terminal, BuzzFeed News' Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi explained. Turkish officials said police at the outer checkpoint shot at the two attackers as they approached the terminal entrance, at which point they detonated their bombs.

BBC Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen, who landed at Ataturk apparently right after the explosions, noted that the airport has long been considered a "vulnerable target" because of its lack of vehicle screening. The attacks follow several recent bombings in Turkey that have been tied to either Kurdish or Islamic State militants. Becca Stanek

7:39 p.m. ET
Gokhan Tan/Getty Images

No group has taken responsibility yet for the deadly blasts Tuesday at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport that killed at least 36 people.

U.S. officials told The Daily Beast they have no intelligence identifying the culprits, and the main suspects are the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a militant group seeking independence for Kurds in Turkey. The PKK does not usually target citizens in its attacks, and the officials said they privately believe ISIS is likely behind the coordinated attacks; while they are suspected in several bombings across Turkey, they have never claimed responsibility for a bombing inside the country. Catherine Garcia

6:45 p.m. ET

Three crew members are missing following a head-on train collision Tuesday in Panhandle, Texas.

The BNSF Railway freight trains were on the same track when they collided, The Associated Press reports, and several of the boxcars carrying assorted consumer goods burst into flames. A BNSF spokesman said each train had two crew members, and one was able to jump from his train before the crash; his condition is unknown. The spokesman also said it's not known how fast the trains were going when they collided, or why they were both on the same track.

"I don't know how anyone survived," witness Billy Brown told AP. "It's terrible. I've seen a number of train wrecks but I've never seen one like this." BNSF has said it will meet a 2018 federal deadline to start using positive train control (PTC), technology that uses GPS, wireless radios, and computers to monitor trains and stop them or slow them down when they are close to derailing or hitting another train. Catherine Garcia

4:08 p.m. ET

CNN commentator and former Donald Trump campaign chair Corey Lewandowski said Trump's economy-focused speech Tuesday was his "best speech of the presidential cycle." Too bad everyone was too busy staring at the literal mound of trash behind Trump to listen to it:

Yes, that actually is trash — or, to be more specific, crushed aluminum cans — behind Trump. The presumptive GOP nominee was likely going for a message about supporting American industry, as he was speaking at Alumisource, which CNN describes as "a raw material producer for the aluminum and steel industries in Monessen, Pennsylvania."

Looks like he just opened himself up to a whole lotta trash talking instead. Becca Stanek

3:00 p.m. ET

Speaking with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held firm on his reluctance to outright endorse Hillary Clinton for president. Mitchell mentioned Sanders' statements last week that he would vote for Clinton in November, and asked the senator whether there's a distinction between the vote and an endorsement or whether they're "one and the same."

"No, they're not one and the same," Sanders replied. "What I am trying to do now, in a variety of ways, is to see that we have a Democratic platform that represents working families, that is prepared to take on the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street."

When Mitchell noted that Clinton's lead over presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump is in the single digits, and that she could use a wave of support — presumably brought on by Sanders' endorsement — to boost her in the polls, Sanders demurred. "It's not a question of my endorsement. It's a question of the American people understanding that Secretary Clinton is prepared to stand with them as they work longer hours for low wages, as they cannot afford health care, as their kids can't afford to go to college," he said. "Make it clear that she is on their side. … I have no doubt that if Secretary Clinton makes those positions clear, she will defeat Trump, and defeat him by a very wide margin."

Watch the full segment below. Kimberly Alters

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