Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 19, 2018

Lawmakers warn Trump not to fire Mueller, Putin easily wins re-election for another six-year term, and more

1

Republicans and Democrats warn Trump not to fire Mueller

Lawmakers from both parties rallied behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Sunday, after one of President Trump's lawyers said Mueller's inquiry into Russian election meddling should end soon. Trump fueled concerns with an angry weekend tweetstorm attacking Mueller, former FBI Director James Comey, and FBI No. 2 official Andrew McCabe, who was fired late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Democrats called for Congress to take steps to protect Mueller. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said if Trump tried to fire Mueller it "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said if Trump is innocent he should "act like it." Trump lawyer Ty Cobb said "the president is not considering or discussing the firing" of Mueller.

2

Putin re-elected with 77 percent of vote

Russian President Vladimir Putin easily won another six years in office in Sunday elections. Russia's Central Election Commission said Monday that Putin got nearly 77 percent of the vote in a field of eight candidates, though critics say Russian elections are a pseudo-democratic exercise with a predetermined outcome. Apathetic voters were under increased pressure to turn out this year, with some employers asking workers to provide proof that they voted. The mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg told Associated Press reporters he "received orders 'from higher up' to make sure the presidential vote turnout is over 60 percent." Turnout was 63.7 percent.

3

4th package-bomb explosion injures 2 in Austin

An explosion in Austin, Texas, left two men with serious injuries on Sunday night, stoking fears that a serial package-bomber is targeting the city. It was the fourth unexplained explosion in the city this month, and police believe the latest blast is related to the earlier ones, which killed two people. The fourth blast occurred on a roadside in an upscale neighborhood, while the earlier package-bombs exploded on the doorsteps of homes. The victims in the latest explosion, both in their 20s, were walking or riding bicycles, and Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said it was "very possible" that the device went off when one of them touched a tripwire.

4

School officials had called for forcibly committing accused school killer

School officials and a sheriff's deputy recommended forcibly committing Nikolas Cruz, the student accused of killing 17 people in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, for a mental health evaluation more than a year ago, but nobody acted on the recommendation, The Associated Press reported Sunday, citing court documents. If Cruz, 19, had been committed, it would have been more difficult for him to legally obtain a gun. Under Florida's Baker Act, a person can be forcibly committed for a mental health exam for at least three days, and it's not clear why no one ever followed through on the recommendation. The resource officer who proposed Cruz be committed was Scot Peterson, who resigned after facing criticism for not entering the building during the shooting.

5

Trump to unveil plan to fight opioid epidemic

President Trump is expected to unveil his plan to fight the opioid epidemic on Monday. An early version of the plan would have called for the death penalty against some drug dealers, but the final version is expected to be scaled back, with a call for capital punishment against drug traffickers only "when appropriate under current law," said Andrew Bremberg, the White House's director of the Domestic Policy Council. Trump will announce his new policies during a trip to New Hampshire. The administration says the plan would lead to a reduction in opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years by mixing administration actions and new laws requiring money from Congress. It includes elements focused on law enforcement, education, prevention, treatment, and recovery.

6

Report: 3 witnesses contradict Sessions testimony on Russia outreach

Three witnesses have told Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team or congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not push back against a 2016 proposal to have Trump campaign representatives meet with Russians, as Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee in November. The three people attended the March 2016 meeting where former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos made the proposal. While the witnesses' accounts differed slightly, all said Sessions, who was then a senator and chaired the meeting as head of the Trump campaign's foreign policy team, had no objections to Papadopoulos' idea. Another person who attended the meeting, J.D. Gordon, has said Sessions shut down Papadopoulos' proposal.

7

Students return to Florida university days after bridge collapse

Florida International University students return from spring break on Monday for the first day of classes after Thursday's collapse of a pedestrian bridge, which killed six people and injured at least nine others. The concrete span, still under construction, smashed eight cars below. An impromptu memorial has already started forming at a wall held in place by rubble at the site of the bridge, which was being built across a busy, dangerous intersection connecting the campus to the city of Sweetwater, near Miami. "It's going to take time for us and our community to heal," FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a video shared Sunday afternoon. A vigil on campus is planned for Wednesday.

8

Cirque du Soleil performer dies after fall in Tampa show

A veteran Cirque du Soleil performer died after falling 20 feet when his hand slipped off a ring during a performance in Tampa, the theatrical company said Sunday. "While he was performing the aerial straps number, long-time aerialist, Yann Arnaud, fell onto the stage," Cirque du Soleil's VOLTA said in a statement on Twitter. Arnaud, 38, was rushed to a hospital where he died. "The entire Cirque du Soleil family is in shock and devastated by this tragedy," the statement said. Such accidents are rare, but another Cirque du Soleil dancer fell to her death in 2013 when she slipped out of a safety harness during a performance in Las Vegas. Three performers have died in the company's 34-year history.

9

Upsets rock NCAA tournament as Sweet 16 is set

Underdogs shook up the NCAA men's basketball tournament on Sunday, clearing out a bunch of high seeds going into the Sweet 16. On Sunday, seventh-seeded Nevada was down by 22 points with 11 minutes to go and came back to beat No. 2-seeded Cincinnati 75-73 in the second biggest comeback in tournament history. Another No. 7 seed, Texas A&M, trounced No. 2 seed North Carolina, the tournament's defending champion, in the West region, 86-65, and in the Midwest No. 3 seed Michigan State lost to No. 11 Syracuse. The weekend got off to a historic start Friday night when the University of Maryland-Baltimore County blew out Virginia 74-54 to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1. Xavier, another No. 1 seed, lost to No. 7 Florida State on Sunday.

10

Black Panther leads box office for 5th straight weekend

Black Panther finished Sunday at the top of the domestic box office for the fifth straight weekend. The Disney comic-book smash, directed by Ryan Coogler, became the first film since James Cameron's Avatar in 2009 to hold onto the top spot that long. The film raked in $27 million in ticket sales over the weekend, raising its domestic total to $605.4 million, while its global gross reached more than $1.1 billion. The MGM-Warner Bros. reboot of Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander as archaeologist adventurer Lara Croft, came in close behind Black Panther with $23.5 million, despite mediocre reviews, and it was No. 1 overseas.

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