Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 21, 2018

Trump calls for a proposal to ban bump stocks, Mueller's team gets another guilty plea, and more


Trump calls for bump-stock ban as pressure rises for gun control

President Trump said Tuesday that he had ordered Attorney General Jeff Sessions to draw up a proposal to ban devices known as bump stocks, which let legal semiautomatic rifles fire like fully automatic weapons. The shooter who killed 58 people in Las Vegas last October used guns equipped with bump stocks to rain gunfire from a hotel room window onto a crowd below. The announcement came after Trump faced criticism from survivors of last week's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who are spearheading a national movement to pressure Trump and lawmakers to back tougher gun control. "We have to do more to protect our children," Trump said.


Mueller's team gets another guilty plea

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team indicted a lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, on Tuesday, as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling. Van der Zwaan's firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, worked with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates. Van der Zwaan, a Dutch national and son-in-law of a wealthy Russian linked to President Vladimir Putin, pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller's investigators in a case that involves lobbying for former Ukraine leaders. The charge is unrelated to President Trump's campaign but could increase pressure on Manafort and Gates to cooperate. Manafort and Gates have been charged with money laundering and breaking tax and lobbying laws, but both have pleaded not guilty. They were charged over lobbying work they conducted before they joined the campaign.


Florida lawmakers reject opening debate on assault weapons ban

Florida lawmakers rejected a motion to bring an assault weapons ban to a vote Tuesday. The state House voted 71-36 against the measure, less than a week after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by a teenager armed with a semiautomatic rifle. The proposed ban had been stalled in committee, but Democratic state Rep. Kionne McGhee pushed for the vote on allowing the bill to be considered anyway. Nearly every Republican voted no. Florida's state Senate, however, took at least one step to address the safety of students, with the state's Senate Education Committee attaching an amendment to an education reform bill that would put law enforcement officers in every public school in the state.


Supreme Court dismisses challenge to California gun-buyer waiting period

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a Second Amendment challenge to California's 10-day waiting period for new gun purchases. The court has ruled that law-abiding Americans have a constitutional right to own guns, striking down handgun bans in Washington, D.C., and Chicago in 2008 and 2010. The court, however, has repeatedly made it clear that governments have broad powers to regulate firearms, including state bans on assault-style semiautomatic weapons. The lone dissenter in Tuesday's decision was Justice Clarence Thomas, who said the court was treating the Second Amendment as "a disfavored right."


Trump expands access to non-ObamaCare health insurance plans

The Trump administration on Tuesday eased restrictions on health insurance plans sold outside ObamaCare. The proposed rules would allow people to buy short-term, less comprehensive health insurance for up to 12 months, rather than the three-month limit set by the Obama administration. Republicans say people need alternatives to the high-cost plans offered under the health law. With the short-term plans, insurers can charge more for people with pre-existing conditions, and they can deny some services required to be covered under ObamaCare. "The status quo is failing too many Americans who face skyrocketing costs and fewer and fewer choices," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. Democrats said the move was just the latest in a series of GOP efforts to "sabotage" the health law.


U.N. official: Bombing in Syria's Eastern Ghouta is 'beyond imagination'

Activists say at least 250 people, including 50 children, have been killed over the last few days in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, with about 1,200 injured. Panos Moumtzis, the United Nations Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, told the BBC the situation there is "beyond imagination," and countless people are experiencing "extreme suffering." The government has been dropping bomb after bomb in Eastern Ghouta, the last major opposition stronghold near Damascus, for several days; the military says it is trying to free the area from terrorists. Activists say this is the worst violence in Syria since a chemical attack in 2013.


Army awards Medal of Heroism to 3 ROTC cadets killed in Parkland school shooting

The Army has awarded the Medal of Heroism to three Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets — Peter Wang, 15, Alaina Petty, 14, and Martin Duque, 14 — who were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Wang's funeral was Tuesday, Petty's funeral was Monday, and Duque will be buried Saturday. Petty "just wanted to be your friend," said her father, Ryan Petty. West Point admitted Wang posthumously. He died in his uniform after being shot while helping other students escape during the shooting. West Point was his dream school.


North Koreans canceled secret meeting with Pence at last minute

Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to have a secret meeting with North Korea's high-level delegation during his trip to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, but North Korea canceled at the last minute, the State Department said Tuesday. "We regret the failure to seize this opportunity," department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. North Korea backed out less than two hours before Pence was scheduled to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, Pence's office said. The decision came after Pence denounced North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile programs and announced the "toughest and most aggressive" sanctions yet against Pyongyang.


Student protests grow as conspiracy theorists criticize school shooting survivors

A thousand students walked out of a South Florida school on Tuesday and marched or hitched rides to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 12 miles away, to pay their respects to students mourning the 17 classmates and teachers killed in last week's shooting there. The spontaneous demonstration came as students around the country are organizing protests to demand tighter gun control and other measures to make schools safer. Some of the Parkland, Florida, students who have become visible representatives of the movement, including 17-year-old David Hogg, have been accused of being "crisis actors" and "puppets" of liberal politicians by right-wing bloggers and conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones, who suggested the shooting was a "false flag" attack by anti-gun activists.


U.S. skiers win gold in cross country team sprint, Vonn wins downhill bronze

American skiers Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won the United States' first Olympic gold medal in the cross country team sprint on Wednesday. Also, American skiing star Lindsey Vonn won bronze in the women's downhill, putting behind her a backlash she faced from supporters of President Trump after she criticized him. "I am proud of what I represent and who I am," Vonn said, "and I'm very proud to hold the American flag on the podium." The Czech Republic beat the U.S. men's hockey team in a shootout in Wednesday's quarterfinals, eliminating the Americans from contention for a medal. Czech Republic goaltender Pavel Francouz stopped all five Americans in the shootout, and his teammate Petr Koukal scored, giving the Czech team a 3-2 win.


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