Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 17, 2014

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Harold Maass
Another President Bush in waiting? (Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

1.

Widely criticized Congress wraps up its work

The 113th Congress, which was panned as the least productive in modern history, came to a close late Tuesday. Democrats in the Senate, on their last day in control of the upper house, wrapped up by approving at least six dozen of President Obama's judicial nominees and extended several tax breaks that had been scheduled to expire in 2015, but failed to renew a terrorism insurance program supported by corporations and major sports leagues. "Thank God it’s over!" Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) said. [The Washington Post]

2.

Jeb Bush announces he is exploring a presidential run

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced Tuesday via social media that he would "actively explore the possibility of running for president" in 2016. Bush, the son of former president George H.W. Bush and brother of former president George W. Bush, served as Florida's governor from 1999 to 2007. He is a favorite of the Republican establishment, but has angered conservatives with his support for Common Core education guidelines and comprehensive immigration reform that might include a pathway to legal residency for some undocumented immigrants. [Orlando Sentinel, ABC News]

3.

Court calls Obama's immigration orders unconstitutional

A federal court in Pennsylvania on Tuesday declared some of President Obama's executive actions on immigration unconstitutional, saying they amounted to "arbitrary immigration enforcement." Judge Arthur Schwab's ruling was the first in the nation to address Obama's executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. A Justice Department spokesman called the ruling, which came in the case of a Honduran charged with illegal entry after a drunken driving arrest, "unfounded" and said the judge had "no basis" to address the executive actions. [The Washington Post, Politico]

4.

Pakistan lifts death penalty a day after Taliban school attack kills 145

Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, lifted a moratorium on the death penalty on Wednesday, a day after nine gunmen armed with grenades and suicide vests killed 145 people at an army-run school. The government declared three days of mourning for the victims, with the national flag flown at half-staff at all official buildings. Security forces set up security checkpoints and barricades in Peshawar, the northwestern city where the attack occurred, and all businesses and schools there were closed. [The New York Times]

5.

Jury rejects antitrust lawsuit against Apple

A federal jury on Tuesday rejected an antitrust lawsuit accusing Apple of using a 2006 update to iTunes software to give itself a monopoly over digital music sales. The eight-member jury unanimously found that Apple had tweaked the software to make legitimate improvements to iPods sold from 2006 to 2009. Competitors who filed the class-action suit complained that the changes let users play songs purchased in the iTunes stores or downloaded from CDs, but not those sold by rival stores and services. [The New York Times]

6.

Vet suspected in Pennsylvania killing spree found dead

An Iraq War veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five members of her family, including a 14-year-old niece, was found dead of apparently self-inflicted stab wounds on Tuesday. The body of the 35-year-old suspect, Bradley William Stone, was found a half-mile from his home in suburban Philadelphia, where a 36-hour manhunt had forced local officials to close schools. The former Marine reservist and his wife were involved in a bitter custody dispute. [The Associated Press]

7.

Sierra Leone begins searching for Ebola victims door-to-door

Sierra Leone stepped up its battle against Ebola on Wednesday with a plan to search house-to-house for infected people and anyone who has come into contact with them. Those infected will be transported to new treatment centers built by the U.K. The West African nation's government also said it would impose new travel restrictions. Sierra Leone has more than half of the 18,000 confirmed Ebola cases, and the rate of infection there has been rising. [Reuters]

8.

Prosecutor rejects filing abuse charge against Cosby

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office on Tuesday declined to file a child sexual abuse charge against Bill Cosby in connection with a woman's claim that the comedian molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974. The decision came a day after Cosby's wife, Camille, issued a statement supporting him against a string of rape and other accusations by numerous women. Camille Cosby said the long-beloved entertainer really was "the man you thought you knew." [CBS Local]

9.

Clifford-creator Norman Bridwell dies at 86

Norman Bridwell, who wrote and illustrated the Clifford the Big Red Dog children's books, has died at a Martha's Vineyard Hospital, his publisher, Scholastic, announced Tuesday. He was 86. The first book in Bridwell's series was published in 1963, and grew into a franchise that included 150 titles and an animated PBS series that aired from 2000 to 2003. A film adaptation of the stories is set for an April 2016 release. [TIME]

10.

Curiosity's methane discovery fuels talk of life on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has detected traces of methane on Mars, a potential sign of life, researchers announced Tuesday at an American Geophysical Union meeting. Curiosity first picked up background levels of methane — just under one part per billion — within Gale Crater, where it is creeping up the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp. But it unexpectedly picked up sporadic levels 10 times higher. Most of Earth's methane is produced biologically, so the discovery increased speculation of life on the Red Planet, now or in the past. [Scientific American]