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10 things you need to know today: February 20, 2018

Trump reportedly considers backing tougher gun-buyer background checks, student movement demanding gun control spreads, and more


Trump reportedly open to tougher background checks for gun buyers

President Trump, facing intense pressure to back gun control measures after the Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead, is open to legislation to "improve the federal background check system," the White House said Monday. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had spoken to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to express support for the bill introduced by Cornyn and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) seeking to reinforce requirements on federal agencies to report all criminal infractions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The powerful National Rifle Association has not come out against the bill as it has other proposals, such as renewing the assault rifle ban or curbing sales of high-capacity magazines.


Growing student movement demands gun control and safer schools

Dozens of teenage students held a "lie-in" in front of the White House on Monday, with 17 protesters lying down in silence to represent the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. The demonstrators called for tougher gun control laws to help make schools safer. Protesters held signs with slogans such as, "Is Congress or the NRA making our laws?" Some chanted, "No more dead kids!" and "Congress is complicit!" "The shooting offended me because it just keeps happening," a 16-year-old from Virginia said, "and Donald Trump and Congress aren't doing anything about it." Students also demonstrated in other cities such as Los Angeles, and dozens of Parkland survivors are heading to Florida's state capital, Tallahassee, to talk to lawmakers about gun control on Wednesday.


Parkland school shooting suspect back in court

Parkland, Florida, school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz returned to court on Monday, appearing in person rather than video feed for the first time, for a hearing on a motion involving his public defender's "access" to him. Cruz sat silently, with his head bowed, and barely communicated with his attorneys in the heavily guarded Fort Lauderdale courtroom. Lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill had tried to exclude Cruz from the hearing, saying requiring his presence would create "an opportunity for the media to have a circus with him." Cruz, 19, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. Cruz's lawyers have said he would consider pleading guilty if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table.


Trump endorses Romney for Senate

President Trump on Monday endorsed former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. During the 2016 campaign, Romney called Trump a "fraud." Trump responded by saying Romney "choked like a dog" when he challenged then-President Barack Obama in 2012. On Monday, however, Trump tweeted that Romney would "make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!" Romney thanked Trump and said he hoped to "also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah." Romney said last week he generally supported Trump's domestic agenda, including reducing taxes and regulations, but was "not always with the president on what he might say or do."


Kremlin says U.S. election-meddling indictment doesn't implicate Moscow

The Kremlin on Monday said that the indictment of 13 Russians and Russian companies on charges they meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election offered no evidence that the Russian government was involved. "Russia did not meddle, does not have the habit of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, and is not doing so now," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The comments marked Moscow's first official response to the charges, which are focused on Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, known in Russian media as "Putin's cook" because he owns a catering service Moscow officials use. The indictment says that a Russian troll farm he funded tried to drum up support in the U.S. for Donald Trump and fuel opposition to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.


Pennsylvania high court unveils congressional map

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted 4-3 Monday to approve a new congressional map to replace one draw by state Republicans in 2010 that the court said unfairly favored Republicans. The new map, created by Stanford law professor Nate Persily, creates eight districts that favored Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, and 10 that favored President Trump, suggesting it could help Democrats pick up seats this fall. Under the old boundaries, Republicans consistently won 13 of the 18 districts, even though Democrats and Republicans voted in roughly equal proportions. Republicans have vowed to challenge the new map. Election law expert Rick Hasen writes that Republicans have limited legal options, as the U.S. Supreme Court has already rejected one challenge to the Pennsylvania court's ruling.


3 Iranian police officers killed in clash with Tehran protesters

Three Iranian police officers were killed Monday in clashes with Sufi protesters in Tehran. Video footage posted online showed members of the Gonabadi Dervishes, an order of followers of the mystical Islamic sect, in front of a police station, demanding the release of some members of their group. One clip shows a white bus barreling into a group of 40 riot police on a narrow street. "Some disruptors of security and order used a bus today and killed three police officers," police spokesman Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi said on state television. "The murderers were arrested seconds after their crime."


Donald Trump Jr. starts India trip to sell condos

Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, starts an unofficial trip to India on Tuesday to promote family real estate projects, although he also plans to make a foreign policy speech at an event with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ahead of Trump Jr.'s arrival, the family's company has been running newspaper ads inviting people to reserve condominiums in the latest Trump Tower project for a booking fee of $38,000 that will come with an invitation to "join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner." President Trump has put his sons in charge of running the company although he hasn't divested, and ethics experts say the combination of the invitation to dine with Trump Jr. and his decision to make a policy speech present a potential conflict of interest.


Bank accuses Latvian regulator of demanding bribes

Latvian bank Norvik on Monday filed an international complaint accusing a "senior Latvian official" of repeatedly trying to "extort monetary bribes" in exchange for helping the bank succeed in the small Baltic nation. Norvik bank officials identified the official to The Associated Press as Ilmars Rimsevics, Latvia's top banking official and an influential member of the European Central Bank. Rimsevics was detained over the weekend when he arrived for questioning at Latvia's anti-corruption agency. Explaining the "rules of the game" to Norvik's owner, Rimsevics allegedly showed him a note with the figure of 100,000 euros, or about $125,000, per month.


Mozambique garbage mound collapses, killing 17

Heavy rains caused the collapse of huge garbage mound on the outskirts of Mozambique's capital of Maputo on Monday, killing an estimated 17 people. Debris from the Hulene garbage dump came crashing down on a densely populated, impoverished neighborhood, destroying an undetermined number of homes. "The mountains of garbage collapsed on the houses and many families were still inside these residences," Fatima Belchoir, a national disaster official, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa. The dump is the largest in Maputo, and the poor in the area often sift through the refuse looking for food and items they can sell.


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