Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2017

Trump defends his performance in contentious news conference, ISIS attack kills dozens at a Pakistan shrine, and more


Trump defends performance, slams media in news conference

President Trump defended his job performance in a combative, hastily arranged news conference on Thursday, saying he "inherited a mess." He said the "dishonest" media was wrong to report turmoil in his administration, calling it a "fine-tuned machine." Over an hour and a half, he slammed news outlets for printing leaked information while calling reports of his aides' contact with Russia "fake," and vowed an investigation to find out how the press was getting confidential information. He also said he would sign a new executive order restricting travel from some nations to the U.S. Trump also bounced from boasting about his electoral victory to expressing pain over the often harsh criticism he has faced in the media. "The tone is such hatred," he said. "I'm really not a bad person."


ISIS claims responsibility for attack at Pakistan shrine

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 75 people at a shrine in Pakistan on Thursday. Another 200 people were injured. The blast in the main hall of the shrine of the revered 13th-century Muslim Sufi philosopher Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was the deadliest in the country in two years. ISIS, a Sunni Muslim extremist group, said the attack targeted a gathering of Shiite Muslims, viewed by ISIS as apostates. "I saw bodies everywhere," said witness Raja Somro. "I saw bodies of women and children." Pakistani security forces killed dozens of suspected militants on Friday in a crackdown triggered by the attack.


Tillerson makes global diplomatic debut at G-20 meeting

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Thursday in his first foreign trip since becoming Washington's top diplomat. Tillerson, making his debut at a meeting of diplomats from the Group of 20 major world economies in Bonn, Germany, said his talk with Lavrov touched many topics but focused on the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. Russia has been supporting separatists there, and Tillerson said he urged Moscow to pull back. "As we search for new common ground," Tillerson said, "we expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine."


Trump picks Alexander Acosta to head Labor Department

President Trump on Thursday announced that he had picked Florida law school dean R. Alexander Acosta as his new labor secretary nominee. Acosta, a former assistant attorney general for human rights and one-time member of the National Labor Relations Board, replaces Trump's first pick for the job, lawyer and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from consideration after facing opposition over his business record and hiring of an undocumented domestic worker. His ex-wife also filed domestic abuse charges against him decades ago, but dropped them. Trump noted that Acosta had already been confirmed for federal positions three times, and said he would "be a key part of achieving our goal of revitalizing the American economy." If confirmed, Acosta will be the only Hispanic member of Trump's Cabinet.


Flynn reportedly told FBI he didn't discuss sanctions with Russian ambassador

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn last month denied to FBI agents that he had discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia's ambassador to Washington, contrary to what intelligence agencies learned in intercepted communications, current and former U.S. officials told The Washington Post. Lying to the FBI is a felony, so Flynn's claims in the Jan. 24 interview could expose him to legal trouble. It would be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute him. A spokesman for Flynn, who resigned this week as President Trump's national security adviser, and the FBI declined to comment.


Dylann Roof admirer planned attack on South Carolina synagogue

A man with white supremacist ties, Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, was arrested this week after buying a gun and ammunition from an undercover agent, and saying he planned to stage a terror attack on a South Carolina synagogue "in the spirit of Dylann Roof," according to an FBI affidavit filed Thursday. McDowell, 29, was arrested Wednesday for allegedly buying a .40 caliber Glock pistol from an undercover agent posing as an Aryan Nations hitman. McDowell is a convicted felon, so he is not allowed to buy firearms. Over the previous month, McDowell's Facebook account had posts about wanting to kill Jews, and praising Roof, who has been sentenced to death for murdering nine black churchgoers in Charleston in 2015.


Trump pick to replace Flynn turns down offer

Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, President Trump's pick to replace former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, reportedly has turned down the position. Harward is a former Navy SEAL and current senior executive at aerospace company Lockheed Martin, a major defense contractor. He would have brought broad experience to the job, and allowed Trump to quickly bounce back from the setback of losing Flynn, whose resignation Trump requested following reports that Flynn failed to tell Vice President Mike Pence the full extent of his pre-inauguration conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.


Samsung chief arrested over presidential corruption scandal

Acting Samsung chief Lee Jae-yong was arrested early Friday on bribery charges in connection with the influence peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye. A court last month rejected prosecutors' request to arrest Lee, but this time prosecutors presented new information and a judge said the court acknowledged "the cause and necessity of the arrest." Prosecutors accuse Samsung of paying $38 million in bribes to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, the president's confidante at the heart of the scandal.


House Republicans reveal outline for ObamaCare replacement

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and two House committee chairmen on Thursday unveiled the outline of the House Republican plan to replace ObamaCare. The plan includes tax credits for buying insurance, which would increase with a person's age but do not change based on income, and incentives for people to open savings accounts to pay for medical expenses. The outline did not mention the cost, or how many people would gain insurance. The Affordable Care Act has extended coverage to 20 million people. The new plan also calls for sharply reducing payments to the 31 states that expanded Medicaid.


Immigrants protest Trump policies

Thousands of immigrants in cities across the country stayed home from work and school on Thursday in a nationwide protest to show how important immigrants are to the economy. Many businesses also closed to show support for the protest, dubbed "A Day Without Immigrants." No estimates were available for the number of people who participated in the strike, which was organized to protest President Trump's immigration policies, such as stepping up deportations of undocumented immigrants, building a border wall, and temporarily halting travel from some predominantly Muslim nations. "Businesses cannot function without immigrant workers today," said Janet Murguia, president of the Hispanic rights group National Council of La Raza.


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