Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2016

Harold Maass
The flag flies at half-staff outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
AP Photo/ Susan Walsh


Judiciary Committee leader open to hearings on Obama Supreme Court nominee

President Obama said Tuesday that he would pick someone for the Supreme Court who is "indisputably" qualified, and the "Constitution is pretty clear" that the Senate should consider the nominee. The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, said that he was open to holding hearings on Obama's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday. Other Republicans insist the next president should pick the new justice. Grassley said he "would wait until the nominee is made" to decide. [Chicago Tribune, The New York Times]


Apple fights order to unlock San Bernardino shooter's iPhone

Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter late Tuesday saying the company would fight a court order to help the FBI unlock the iPhone 5c of Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI has been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to access data on the smartphone, hoping to find crucial evidence about the massacre. Cook said Apple has tried to help the FBI "solve this horrible crime," but the court order asks for "something we consider too dangerous to create... a backdoor to the iPhone." [NBC News, The Washington Post]


U.S. and Cuba sign deal to resume commercial flights

The United States and Cuba signed an agreement on Tuesday to allow commercial flights to resume between the former Cold War rivals. All flights between the U.S. and the communist Caribbean island now are charters, but by next fall scheduled airline flights will be available for the first time in five decades. First, airlines will bid on routes for up to 110 daily U.S.-Cuba flights. The deal "represents a critically important milestone in the U.S. effort to engage with Cuba," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said after signing the agreement in Havana. [The Associated Press]


Obama predicts Trump won't win because being president is a "serious job"

President Obama on Tuesday said Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump will not be president because voters will recognize that he is not qualified. "I have a lot of faith in the American people," Obama said. "And I think they recognize that being president is a serious job. It's not hosting a talk show or a reality show." Obama said Trump's support is bound to dwindle as the election nears. The latest polls show Trump heading into Saturday's South Carolina Republican primary with a double-digit lead. [USA Today, The Hill]


Trump comment stokes conspiracy theories surrounding Scalia's death

The conspiracy theories surrounding Justice Antonin Scalia's death got a boost on Tuesday from Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, who said: "It's a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow." Scalia, 79, suffered from high blood pressure and other chronic conditions, and police found no signs of foul play. Their conclusions prompted a Texas judge to pronounce that Scalia died of natural causes without seeing the body or ordering an autopsy, fueling numerous murder theories. [New York Daily News, The Washington Post]


U.S. sends stealth fighters to South Korea as tensions rise with Pyongyang

The U.S. sent four F-22 stealth fighters to South Korea on Wednesday in a show of force as tensions rise with North Korea over its nuclear and long-range missile programs. The high-tech fighters, which can evade radar detection, flew low over South Korea before landing at a base near Seoul escorted by other fighter jets. The U.S. last month sent a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber to South Korea after a North Korean nuclear test. Pyongyang sees such moves as a threat, and has accused the allies of preparing an invasion. [The Associated Press]


Judge says rancher Cliven Bundy must stay in jail

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy must stay in jail pending his trial on charges connected to his 2014 armed standoff with federal officials trying to round up his cattle over unpaid fees for grazing on federal land. Bundy was not arrested until he showed up in Oregon saying he was headed to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where his sons started an armed occupation to demand the transfer of federal lands to local authorities. U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart said Bundy, 69, is "lawless and violent" and likely would not show up for future court hearings if released. [The Associated Press]


U.N. says Syrian government will let aid into besieged towns

The United Nations said Tuesday that a mediator had received assurances from the Syrian government that its military would let humanitarian-aid convoys reach seven besieged rebel-held areas. U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura got the approval in talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem. The government reportedly promised access for the convoys on Wednesday, and de Mistura said the attempts to get through would "test" the government's commitment "to reach every Syrian person." [Reuters]


Eagles of Death Metal perform for Paris attack survivors

The Eagles of Death Metal played a concert in Paris on Tuesday night, three months after Islamist terrorists killed 89 people while the U.S. rock band was performing at the Bataclan theater. Lead singer Jesse Hughes said the band wanted to finish the show it started for fans. "I think everyone needed it," survivor Lydia Vassallo said. "The music definitely won over — terrorism didn't," said another survivor, Patrick Moore. [BBC News]


Ex-U.N. chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali dies at 93

Former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali died in an Egyptian hospital on Tuesday. He was 93. Boutros-Ghali led the U.N. through a period marked by genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Africa. The current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, praised Boutros-Ghali's leadership during "one of the most tumultuous and challenging periods" in the world body's history. The blunt-spoken Egyptian clashed with Washington, and the Clinton administration blocked him from getting a second term. [Reuters, The Washington Post]