Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 16, 2020

Tim O'Donnell
Diamond Princess cruise ship.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images


U.S. set to evacuate quarantined cruise ship passengers

American passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Japan since Feb. 3 due to 356 cases of coronavirus on board, are being evacuated Sunday. Around 400 American citizens will disembark, and those that have either not been infected or are not showing symptoms of the virus will return to the U.S. on chartered flights. Upon arrival, the passengers will once again be subject to quarantine at Air Force bases in California and Texas. Overall, the total number of deaths resulting from the coronavirus increased to 1,665, and the number of cases reached 68,500, China reported Sunday. However, Beijing's National Health Commission also reported more than 9,400 patients in China have been cured and discharged. [NBC News, CNN]


Speech reveals Xi was involved in coronavirus decision-making early on

Chinese state media published an internal speech delivered by President Xi Jinping on Saturday in which he describes taking action on the coronavirus outbreak as early as Jan. 7. In the speech, which was given Feb. 3, Xi said he had "issued demands about the efforts to prevent and control" the virus during a meeting of the Communist Party's highest council, the Politburo Standing Committee, last month, and that he personally authorized the lockdown of the epicenter, Wuhan, beginning on Jan. 23. "I have at every moment monitored the spread of the epidemic and progress in efforts to curtail it," he said. Publishing the speech is viewed as an attempt to show Xi has been involved from the start, but some analysts think it could backfire and lead to criticism that the government kept the public in the dark for too long. [The Associated Press, The New York Times]


Biden criticizes Sanders for supporters' online attacks

Former Vice President Joe Biden has called on his fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to "disown" any of his supporters waging "vicious, malicious" online attacks. In an interview set to air Sunday, Biden waded into a controversy surrounding Sanders supporters who have been accused of threatening members of Nevada's Culinary Workers Union for not backing Sanders' Medicare-for-All proposal. Biden said Sanders may not be responsible for the actions, but "he has some accountability." The vice president said his competitor should investigate whether any of the attacks were coming from inside the campaign. "Fire them," he said. "Find out. See what's going on." After the Sanders campaign was alerted about the union's accusations, they issued a statement requesting "supporters of all campaigns not to engage in bullying or personal attacks." [Politico, Reuters]


Esper optimistic about U.S.-Taliban deal

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that a "reduction in violence" agreement between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan "looks very promising." The truce, which is expected to be formally announced Sunday and begin Monday, would last for seven days. If the truce holds, a U.S.-Taliban peace deal would follow, and All-Afghan peace negotiations would begin within 10 days. A phased withdrawal of U.S. troops over the next 18 months would be part of that plan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has reportedly been skeptical of the proposal, but Esper says he thinks "he is fully on board." Despite Esper's optimism, he said the plan does involve "taking some risk," but "we have to give peace a chance." [The Associated Press]


More than 30 civilians reportedly killed during air raid in Yemen

Yemen's Houthi rebels said air raids conducted by the Western-backed Saudi-UAE-led military coalition killed more than 30 civilians Saturday just one day after the rebels said they shot down a Saudi jet fighter with a surface-to-air missile. The United Nations confirmed Saturday's death toll. The Houthis said women and children were among the dead. The coalition acknowledged the "possibility of collateral damage" during their search-and-rescue mission for the downed plane. Lise Grande, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said the killings were "shocking" and "unjustified," arguing that belligerents in the conflict in Yemen have failed over the years to hold up their obligation to protect civilians. [Al Jazeera, BBC]


Trump administration may halt GE engine deliveries to China

The Trump administration is considering halting deliveries of jet engines co-produced by General Electric for the development of a Chinese jetliner which is reportedly years behind schedule, a person familiar with the discussions said. The White House's fear is tied to broader efforts to protect American intellectual property from Beijing — Washington reportedly believes China could eventually reverse-engineer the engines, break into the global jet engine market, and compete with U.S. business interests. GE is arguing the advanced techniques make reverse-engineering the engines very difficult, but even if China was able to do so, the engines have been on the ground there for years already. Administration officials are expected to discuss the proposal next week. [The Wall Street Journal]


DNC sets qualifications for South Carolina debate

The Democratic National Committee established Saturday the qualifications for the party's presidential candidates to participate in the Feb. 25 debate in Charleston, South Carolina, ahead of the state's primary at the end of the month. Candidates need to reach 10 percent in four DNC-approved national polls or 12 percent in South Carolina-specific polls, all of which must have been released between Feb. 4 and Feb. 24. They can also qualify by winning at least one delegate to the Democratic National Convention from the Iowa and Nevada caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have already qualified under those parameters, leaving billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg on the outside for now. [Politico, The Hill]


No casualties reported after rockets strike near U.S. embassy in Iraq

Rockets struck Baghdad on Sunday near the United States embassy, an American military source said. The rockets reportedly struck an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. troops in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, but there were reportedly no casualties and only minor damage. It was the 19th attack since October to target the embassy or U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. No one has claimed responsibility, but Washington has accused Iran-backed groups within the Hashd al-Shaabi, a military network officially incorporated into Iraq's security forces. Hashd factions have vowed revenge for the deaths of former Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Hashd deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed by a U.S. strike in January. [The Guardian, Al Jazeera]


14-year-old indicted on murder charges in Tessa Majors case

A 14-year-old boy has been charged with fatally stabbing 18-year-old Barnard College student Tessa Majors during a park robbery in New York last December. The boy, who was arrested Friday night in the lobby of a building in the presence of his mother and relatives without incident, will reportedly be tried as an adult on two counts of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree robbery, and three counts of second-degree robbery. In December, police arrested a 13-year-old boy in connection to Majors' murder, later charging him with robbery, criminal possession of a weapon, and second-degree felony murder. [BuzzFeed News, The New York Times]


Miami's Jones wins controversial NBA dunk contest

The Miami Heat's Derrick Jones Jr. won the dunk contest Saturday during the NBA's All-Star Weekend, outlasting the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon. The result was not without controversy, however. After advancing to the final, Jones and Gordon each received perfect scores, and they did so again during the first dunk-off, setting up a second tie-breaker. Jones' dunk in that round garnered a score of 48 out of 50 from the judges, while Gordon's — in which he jumped over 7-foot-5 Boston Celtics center Tacko Fall — only notched a 47 even though two of the judges who gave Gordon a perfect 10 said the panel had previously agreed to end that round in a tie, as well. Gordon, who felt he deserved to win, said he's done with the dunk contest after losing in the similarly controversial 2016 edition. [The Washington Post, ESPN]