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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2019

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Tim O'Donnell
President Trump
Evan Vucci/The Associated Press
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1.

Trump's emergency declaration faces 1st lawsuit

President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to redirect about $6.7 billion from programs in the Departments of Treasury and Defense to border wall construction. Less than 24 hours later, the declaration faces its first legal challenge: a lawsuit from Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group, on behalf of Texan landowners whose property would be used for the wall. The suit argues Trump "exceeded his constitutional authority and authority under the National Emergencies Act" and asks that he be banned from "using the declaration and funds appropriated for other purposes to build a border wall." [The Hill, The New York Times]

2.

Pentagon remains undecided about how to fund border wall

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Saturday he has yet to choose which military projects may have funding reallocated to pay for border wall construction following President Trump's national emergency declaration. The Trump administration reportedly identified $3.6 billion from the military construction budget and $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund, but Shanahan has ultimate approval on how much can be taken from which programs. "Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions," Shanahan said. The Pentagon is also still reviewing whether the wall is necessary to support the use of armed forces. [CNN, Reuters]

3.

Pence, Merkel differ on Iran nuclear pact

Vice President Mike Pence and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced differing opinions on how to approach the Iran nuclear deal when they both spoke at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Pence criticized European leaders for remaining in the deal, arguing "the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it." Merkel defended the agreement, describing it as an "anchor" that should be used to pressure Iran in other areas. The chancellor expressed concern over Europe's split with the U.S. on the matter. [Al Jazeera, NBC News]

4.

Heather Nauert withdraws her name as U.N. ambassador nominee

Heather Nauert, President Trump's pick to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew her name from consideration Saturday. The State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News anchor said that it was in the best interest of her family that she remove her name from the process, citing a "grueling" two months. "I am grateful to to President Trump and Secretary [Mike] Pompeo for the trust they placed in me," Nauert said in a statement. The State Department said Trump will select a new nominee soon. [Fox News, CNN]

5.

Background check failed to detect Aurora shooter's record

The man who fatally shot five people and wounded six more in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday was armed with a handgun he should not have been able to purchase, local authorities have revealed. The shooter, identified as Gary Martin, was convicted of aggravated assault in Mississippi in 1995, said Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman. That felony conviction should have been detected by the background check Martin underwent to purchase his gun. It was not. Though a second background check for Martin's concealed carry permit application did alert to his record, he already had the weapon in his possession by that point. [The Associated Press, CNN]

6.

Trump asks Europe to take back 800 ISIS fighters captured in Syria

"The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany, and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial," President Trump tweeted late Saturday. "The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them," Trump added. "The U.S. does not want to watch as these ISIS fighters permeate Europe." The fighters in question are Europeans who traveled to the Mideast to back the Islamic State. While France will repatriate and, in some cases, prosecute them, the United Kingdom has been less willing to do so. [NBC News, The Guardian]

7.

Trump tweets excitement over China trade talks

President Trump tweeted Sunday that China trade talks have progressed positively ahead of the March 1 deadline after which Trump has pledged to raise tariffs on Chinese goods. Trump received an update on the negotiations while at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Both China and the U.S. reported that the meetings were productive, but the White House's official statement was less enthusiastic than the president's tweets, clarifying that work remains to be done. Trump hinted during a Friday press conference that he may extend the March 1 deadline. [South China Morning Post, Washington Examiner]

8.

U.S. military to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela

American military aircraft will deliver 200 tons of humanitarian aid to Venezuela at the Colombian border as soon as this weekend, the State Department has told Congress. Venezuela has faced grave shortages of food and other necessities for several years, and the situation has escalated with large-scale protests and an official challenge to President Nicolas Maduro's legitimacy in office. The U.S. and several European and Latin American nations have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president, and the Trump administration on Saturday indicated willingness to meet with Maduro to discuss his departure from power. [CNN, Fox News]

9.

Chicago police say probe of Empire actor Jussie Smollett's assault case has 'shifted'

Police in Chicago on Saturday said their investigation of the alleged assault against Empire actor Jussie Smollett has changed focus following the interview of two brothers linked to the case. "We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation," said a police statement. "We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview." An unnamed police source told NBC the new information suggests Smollett hired two men to stage the attack. Smollett's lawyers vehemently denied that report. [NBC News, The Associated Press]

10.

Hamidou Diallo dunks over Shaq to win NBA contest

Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Hamidou Diallo dunked over basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal on Saturday night, winning the NBA's 2019 All-Star Dunk Contest. Diallo edged out the New York Knicks' Dennis Smith Jr., who jumped over the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade for his competition dunk. At 7-foot-1, Shaq is nine inches taller than Wade. Practicing to jump over Shaq was difficult, Diallo said, so he "tried a bunch of things. We tried having people stand, putting basketballs on top of them, just to make sure I could clear the shot. So it was tough." [NBC Sports, The Associated Press]