Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 18, 2017

Pence says U.S. will 'hold Russia accountable,' Senate confirms Scott Pruitt as EPA head over Democratic objections, and more


Pence says U.S. will 'hold Russia accountable'

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday traveled to Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference, at which he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both spoke Saturday morning. "Know this: the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know, President Trump believes can be found," Pence said. "Be assured: President Trump and the American people are fully devoted to our transatlantic union." Pence's remarks contrast with Trump's repeated statements that NATO is "obsolete," though he reiterated Trump's demand that NATO allies meet their treaty-mandated military spending goals. Merkel's speech labeled the U.S. a necessary ally in Europe's war on terror, while her praise for a free press was interpreted as a swipe at Trump.


Senate confirms Scott Pruitt as EPA head over Democratic objections

The Senate confirmed President Trump's nominee for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, 52-46 on Friday. Two Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Pruitt: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.). One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, did not vote for Pruitt. Many Democrats fiercely opposed Pruitt's nomination, boycotting a committee vote last month over his refusal to hand over thousands of emails he exchanged with representatives of the gas, oil, and coal industries. On Thursday, an Oklahoma judge ruled that Pruitt, the state's attorney general, must hand over the emails by next week.


DHS memo suggested National Guard troops for immigration 'round up'

The Department of Homeland Security wrote a draft memo proposing mobilization of up to 100,000 National Guard troops in an effort to "round up unauthorized immigrants," The Associated Press reported Friday. The document called for "the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana." White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the memo was "not a White House document," while a DHS official confirmed the document's existence but said the plan was "never seriously considered," characterizing it as a "very early" draft created before Trump's inauguration. AP reports the draft was passed around by DHS employees as recently as a month ago. Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to AP's requests for comment before publication.


Trump in Florida for campaign-style rally

President Trump traveled Friday to Florida, where he will stay at his Mar-a-Lago resort for the weekend and hold a large, campaign-style rally Saturday afternoon. The event is hosted in an airport hangar in Melbourne, Florida, up the coast from the hotel, and about 30,000 people are expected to attend. Past presidents have held similar rallies after taking office, though they typically served to promote a specific policy program, like President Obama's Affordable Care Act or President Bush's tax cut plan. "Looking forward to the Florida rally tomorrow," Trump tweeted Friday night. "Big crowd expected!" The event is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Eastern.


'Weather bomb' storm kills 2, wreaks havoc in California

A powerful southern California rainstorm that began Friday has killed at least two people and produced car-sized sinkholes, power outages, flash floods, and mudslides. The storm is what's known as a bombogenesis, or "weather bomb," a rapid weather system that typically develops in coastal areas. One person was killed in Los Angeles when power lines fell on their car; the other victim died when their car was submerged by a flash flood. Rescue efforts are underway in affected areas, but another 10 trillion gallons of rain are expected to fall on California in the coming week, raising new concerns about the safety of the Oroville Dam.


ISIS command center in Mosul destroyed, says U.S. coalition

The Iraqi army's U.S.-supported campaign to retake Mosul, Iraq, from Islamic State occupation reportedly destroyed a major ISIS command center in the besieged area of the city on Saturday. "ISIS did not use the building for any medical purposes [and] civilians were no longer accessing the site," said a coalition statement announcing the strike, which targeted a building in a hospital complex. A counter-statement from ISIS said the strike killed 18 people, most of whom were women and children, and wounded nearly 50 more. Because independent media are not allowed in ISIS-controlled western Mosul, outside reporting has not been able to verify either statement. The eastern half of the city has been liberated.


Trump's approval rating sinks to 38 percent

President Trump's approval rating has sunk to its lowest level since his inauguration, with just 38 percent of Americans approving of his job as president, Gallup reports. Trump is now 23 points below the historical average for new presidents in mid-February and exactly on par with President Barack Obama's lowest approval rating ever in eight years as president. Trump's highest approval rating since taking office was 46 percent on his fourth and fifth days in the White House.


Trump tweets declare the media the 'enemy of the American people'

President Trump followed his bombastic press conference Thursday with tweets on Friday that declared the media an "enemy" of the U.S. public. "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" he wrote in the second and final tweet; a previous iteration, which was deleted after about 15 minutes, did not list as many media outlets and closed with "SICK!" Saturday morning, Trump posted that Americans should not "believe the main stream (fake news) media" reports that his White House is not running well.


Malaysian police arrest 4th suspect in the murder of Kim Jong Nam

Malaysian police arrested a North Korean man late Friday, the fourth suspect detained in connection with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Two women, one Indonesian and one Vietnamese, have already been arrested, as has one Malaysian man. Malaysian police are still searching for three more people. Kim is believed to have been killed by a fast-acting poison that may have been sprayed in his face; the Indonesian woman said he was one of several people she sprayed with different liquids after being told she was participating in a television prank show. The U.S. and South Korea believe Kim was murdered by North Korean agents.


SpaceX to launch rocket Saturday in first-ever joint venture with NASA

SpaceX will launch its Falcon 9 rocket Saturday morning at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket — which will lift off from Launch Pad 39A, the same pad Apollo 11 used in 1969 — will be headed towards the International Space Station to launch an unmanned aircraft filled with cargo and supplies. This launch, under contract with NASA, marks the first-ever joint venture in outer space between the government and a private company. "Tomorrow's launch is a hybrid launch," SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters Friday. "We've got a government customer, under a commercial launch authority, commercially-developed launch vehicle, incredible amounts of science ... it's a blend." The launch is slated for Saturday at 10:01 a.m. ET, with a back-up time scheduled for Sunday at 9:38 a.m. ET.


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