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10 things you need to know today: February 16, 2017

Trump condemns intelligence agencies for "illegal" leaks, labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder withdraws, and more


Trump slams intelligence agencies for 'illegal' leaks

President Trump lashed out at U.S. intelligence agencies on Wednesday, accusing them of "illegal" leaks that brought down his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Trump has been facing potentially damaging questions about contacts with Russia by Flynn and other Trump aides, but the president tried to redirect the outrage, saying in a tweet that the "un-American" leaks were the "real scandal." Trump reportedly plans to assign Stephen Feinberg, the billionaire co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, to head a review of intelligence agencies. Members of the intelligence community, which reportedly has begun withholding some sensitive details from Trump's intelligence briefings for fear of leaks, say they worry the review could curb their independence and have a chilling effect on information Trump doesn't like.


Trump labor nominee Andrew Puzder drops out

President Trump's labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration on Wednesday as growing resistance from some Republicans threatened to sink his confirmation. A growing number of Senate Republicans opposed Puzder, largely due to his past employment of an undocumented housekeeper, while Democrats criticized him for several reasons, including his opposition to minimum-wage increases and more generous overtime benefits. Puzder's withdrawal added to the turmoil already dogging the Trump administration following the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.


Trump says two-state solution isn't required for Mideast peace

President Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. would drop its insistence that the creation of a Palestinian state be a part of any Middle East peace deal, a departure from a diplomatic goal set in the 1990s. Speaking after meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he was "looking at two-state and one-state" solutions. "I'm very happy with the one that both parties like," he said, adding that he'd like Israel to "hold back" on further settlement construction in Palestinian territories to help pave the way for a "great peace deal." Trump vowed to restore strong, smooth relations with Netanyahu, who frequently clashed with former President Barack Obama. Palestinian leaders have given no indication they would accept an alternative to a two-state solution.


Defense secretary gives NATO allies ultimatum on defense spending

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday warned NATO allies that the U.S. might alter its relationship with them if they don't contribute more to their own defense. "America will meet its responsibilities," he said, "but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense." Mattis delivered the ultimatum during a meeting with other NATO defense ministers. During his campaign, President Trump frequently called for U.S. allies to pay more for their own defense, calling NATO "obsolete" and calling for the defense alliance's 28 members to pay "their fair share."


Trump administration proposes tightening ObamaCare enrollment process

The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed changes to ObamaCare that would make it harder for Americans to move in and out of insurance plans by tightening enrollment processes and helping insurers to collect unpaid premiums. The changes could result in higher out-of-pocket costs for policy holders, but insurers welcomed the new rules issued by a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. President Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, a key part of former President Barack Obama's legacy.


Pentagon might recommend sending ground troops to Syria

The Defense Department is considering recommending sending U.S. combat troops to Syria, CNN reported Wednesday. The move would be part of an effort to follow through on President Trump's call for a plan by the end of the month to combat the Islamic State. Small teams of Special Operations forces already are in Syria training and assisting anti-ISIS opposition groups, but if President Trump approves sending conventional ground troops, he will be fundamentally shifting the U.S. war against ISIS. The Obama administration concluded that sending ground troops was too risky.


Senate blocks Obama rule barring mentally ill from buying guns

The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday voted 57-43 to repeal an Obama administration rule barring some mentally ill people from buying guns. The House passed the measure earlier this month, so it now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it. The rule, which was written after a mentally-impaired man killed 26 people at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, would require the Social Security Administration to report to the FBI background-check database people who receive disability benefits but have been deemed incapable of managing their own financial affairs. It was set to take effect in December, and would impact about 75,000 people. The National Rifle Association opposed the rule as a violation of Second Amendment rights, and the ACLU said it could stereotype mentally ill people as violent.


Susan Collins says she will vote against Pruitt EPA confirmation

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday that she planned to vote against confirming Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Collins said she and Pruitt "have fundamentally different views of the role and mission" of the agency. Pruitt, as Oklahoma's attorney general, filed numerous lawsuits against the EPA, opposing its regulations on such things as mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and cross-state air pollution. Collins said she doubts he backs "the agency's critical mission to protect human health and the environment." The Trump administration says Pruitt is "an expert in constitutional law" with "a deep understanding of the impact of regulations on both the environment and the economy." Collins so far is the only Republican to defect on Pruitt's nomination, so Republicans should have enough votes to confirm him.


Malaysia arrests two more suspects in Kim Jong Nam killing

Malaysian police said Thursday that they had arrested two more suspects in connection with the airport poisoning death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The first suspect, a woman with Vietnamese travel papers, was arrested Wednesday. A second woman, who had an Indonesian passport, and a man believed to be her boyfriend, were arrested on Thursday. North Korea is suspected of being behind the killing, although no evidence has emerged yet to support the theory. The isolated communist country on Thursday is celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of the late leader Kim Jong Il, father of both Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Nam.


Morning Joe blacklists Kellyanne Conway

Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski announced on Wednesday that the MSNBC morning show would stop booking interviews with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway because she is "not credible anymore." "I don't believe in fake news, or information that is not true," Brzezinski said. "Every time I've ever seen her on television, something's askew, off, or incorrect." Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough said Conway is "out of the loop. She's in none of the key meetings. … [It's] bad that a spokesperson in the White House actually goes out and makes things up." The move came after Conway told reporters on Monday that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had "the full confidence of the president" hours before Flynn resigned.


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