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10 things you need to know today: February 20, 2019

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Harold Maass
President Trump in the White House
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1.

Trump says emergency-declaration critics are 'Radical Left'

President Trump on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against his declaration of a national emergency on the Mexican border as an attack "mostly by Open Border Democrats and the Radical Left." Trump told reporters he had an "absolute right" to declare drug smuggling and illegal immigration to be an emergency, adding that it is an "open and closed case" that he can use the declaration to go around Congress to get funding for his promised border wall. Trump demanded $5.7 billion to build the wall, but got just $1.4 billion in a spending deal that averted a government shutdown. Now he is trying to tap other sources to get a total of $8 billion for the border barrier. [The Washington Post]

2.

Report: Trump aides pushed nuke plant sale to Saudis

A 24-page report released by the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday says several current and former members of President Trump's administration, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, pushed for the sale of nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia despite objections from the National Security Council and other White House officials. The report indicates that the sales were discussed in the early days of the Trump presidency but "efforts may be ongoing." The export of American nuclear technology that could be used to create weapons is controlled under 1954's Atomic Energy Act and must be approved by Congress. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

3.

Kentucky student sues The Washington Post for $250 million

The family of Nicholas Sandmann on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against The Washington Post, saying the newspaper "wrongfully targeted and bullied" the Covington, Kentucky, high school student, and depicted him as racist in several articles about a January confrontation between Sandmann and his classmates with a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial. The suit accuses the newspaper of painting Sandmann, who was wearing a Make America Great Again hat, as the instigator to support its alleged bias against President Trump. The lawsuit seeks $250 million in damages. That's how much Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos paid for the Post in 2013. [Reuters]

4.

Justice Ginsburg returns to bench

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench Tuesday for the first time since undergoing cancer surgery in December. Ginsburg, who had already been through two previous bouts with cancer, missed oral arguments for the first time since joining the high court in 1993 after undergoing a pulmonary lobectomy on Dec. 21 to remove two malignant nodules from her left lung. During Tuesday's oral arguments, Ginsburg, 85, entered and left the room without assistance, and was the first justice to ask a question. Before her return, Ginsburg was involved in private court conferences even as fringe right-wing websites spread conspiracy theories about her health. [The Washington Post]

5.

Trump to nominate Jeffrey Rosen as deputy attorney general

President Trump plans to nominate Jeffrey Rosen, currently serving as deputy transportation secretary, to replace Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the White House said Tuesday. Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017 after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian election meddling. Rosenstein, who has faced criticism from Trump, is expected to leave the Justice Department in March. Rosen, who served in the George W. Bush administration, reportedly was picked for the job by Attorney General William Barr, who was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in last week. Both Barr and Rosen worked at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. [Bloomberg News]

6.

Justice Thomas calls for reviewing libel-law ruling

Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday called for the Supreme Court to revisit a landmark 1964 First Amendment decision that made it more difficult for public officials to win libel suits. Thomas said the decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, had no basis in the Constitution. "New York Times and the court's decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law," Thomas said, writing only for himself in a concurring opinion agreeing with the majority in its rejection of an appeal by a woman, Kathrine McKee, who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault and was called dishonest by Cosby's lawyer. President Trump has said he wants to change libel laws so that when newspapers "write purposely negative and horrible and false articles" he'll be able to sue and "win lots of money." [The New York Times]

7.

Trump directs Pentagon to take next step in creating Space Force

President Trump on Tuesday signed an order to begin the process of forming a Space Force, a new branch of the Armed Forces that would be "separate but equal" to the Air Force. The document directs the Pentagon to put together legislation to send to Congress putting the Space Force under the control of the Air Force Department, a relationship similar to the Navy Department's oversight of the Marines. "Our adversaries ... whether we get along with them or not, they're up in space," Trump said. "And they're doing it, and we're doing it. And that's going to be a very big part of where the defense of our nation — and you could say 'offense,' but let's just be nice about it and let's say the defense of our nation — is going to be." [The Washington Post]

8.

Alabama newspaper editor calls for Klan to 'ride again' in D.C.

The editor of a small Alabama newspaper, the Linden Democrat-Reporter, wrote an editorial published Tuesday calling for "the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again" against Democrats and liberal Republicans "plotting to raise taxes in Alabama." The editor, Goodloe Sutton, confirmed that he wrote the Feb. 14 editorial. "If we could get the Klan to go up there and clean out D.C., we'd all been better off," Sutton said. When asked what he meant, Sutton alluded to lynching, saying, "We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them." When asked whether invoking a white supremacist group and calling for lynching Americans was appropriate, he replied: "It's not calling for the lynchings of Americans. These are socialist-communists we're talking about. Do you know what socialism and communism is?" [USA Today]

9.

Trump administration plans to cancel California high-speed rail funding

The Treasury Department said Tuesday it would cancel $929 million in funding for California's high-speed rail project and said the state should repay $2.5 billion already spent. The announcement came after Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his first State of the State address last week that he was scaling back the project after cost increases and delays. Newsom said that instead of linking Los Angeles to San Francisco the state would focus on building 171 miles of track in central California. President Trump, who has clashed with Newsom, said the state should return the federal funding in that case. Newsom called the move "clear political retribution" by Trump. "This is California's money," he said, "and we are going to fight for it." [The Associated Press]

10.

Baseball star Manny Machado signs biggest free-agent contract ever

All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, fresh off a career-best year on offense, agreed to sign with the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. The 26-year-old's 10-year, $300-million deal is the largest free agent contract in the history of American sports, reports ESPN. Only four teams — San Diego, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees — were known to have expressed legitimate interest in the former longtime Baltimore Oriole. It's a surprising turn of events for the Padres, a normally frugal franchise that only began seriously eyeing Machado last month. San Diego finished last in the National League West last season, but boasts one of the league's top minor league systems. [ESPN]