Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 18, 2020

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Harold Maass
A health worker in China
Betsy Joles/Getty Images

1.

Virginia lawmakers block assault weapons ban

Virginia state senators on Monday rejected Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) push to ban the sale of assault weapons, with four moderate Democrats on the State Senate Judiciary Committee joining Republicans to shelve the bill. Northam has tried to use his party's new majorities in both houses of the state legislature to pass a broad package of gun-control laws. "We will be back next year," Northam's spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said. Democrats campaigned promising tough gun restrictions last year and won control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Their attempt to follow through has met pushback, with tens of thousands of gun-rights advocates protesting at the Capitol last month and more than 100 local governments declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. [The Associated Press]

2.

Expert predicts China's coronavirus outbreak will soon plateau

China reported 98 more deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday, and 1,886 new infections, bringing the death toll in mainland China to 1,868 with more than 72,000 confirmed cases. A widely-respected neurologist, Liu Zhiming, died despite a "full effort rescue," according to the health commission in Wuhan, the city in Hubei province that is the epicenter of the outbreak. Eight front-line health-care workers have now died from the flu-like virus. Chinese pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan, who is heading a team of experts managing the outbreak, predicted the number of infections will peak by late February and plateau, with infections remaining high for a while before finally falling. [The Washington Post]

3.

Boy Scouts of America files for bankruptcy over sex abuse costs

The Boy Scouts of America announced that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early Tuesday as it faced mounting legal costs in hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits. The reorganization will include establishing a trust to compensate victims. "While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process — with the proposed Trust structure — will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA's important mission," BSA president and CEO Roger Mosby said in a statement. The bankruptcy filing could set a deadline for former scouts to pursue new claims. "If you've ever considered coming forward, now is the time," said Tim Kosnoff, a member of a team of lawyers who created an Abused in Scouting victims' group. [The New York Times, NPR]

4.

Apple says coronavirus outbreak will hurt revenue

Apple said Monday that it was cutting sales expectations for the current quarter, citing slowed production and weak demand in China due to the coronavirus outbreak. Last month, Apple projected record revenue for this quarter of between $63 billion and $67 billion. The coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, home to two of Apple's top 200 suppliers. Most of Apple's products are assembled in China, and the company said there would be a temporary global shortage of iPhones, since factory closures hindered production. The announcement "confirms the worst fears that the iPhone impact was going to be more dramatic than expected," said Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. Apple was the first major U.S. company to reveal how the coronavirus outbreak had affected business. [The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times]

5.

Amazon's Bezos creates $10 billion fund to fight climate change

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced Monday that he was forming the Bezos Earth Fund and providing $10 billion to fight climate change. The money will go toward grants to scientists and activists. "Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet," Bezos said on Instagram. "I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share." The establishment of the fund was the latest in a series of environmental commitments by Bezos. Amazon last year made a "climate pledge" committing the company to shifting 100 percent to renewable electricity by 2030. [The Washington Post, The Verge]

6.

Taliban leader says peace deal with U.S. to be signed this month

A senior Taliban leader reportedly said Monday that the Islamist group had reached a peace deal with the U.S. and that "both sides have agreed to sign the agreement by the end of this month." The Washington Post reported that the Taliban official, Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi, said in a video shared with journalists that "both sides have initiated the final draft of the peace agreement. Now talks are concluded." The report marked the first Taliban statement since the U.S. announced on Friday that it had completed negotiations with the Taliban on establishing peace in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that the Trump administration had not yet finalized a date for the beginning of a seven-day "reduction in violence" intended to precede the signing of the deal. [The Washington Post, The Hill]

7.

At least 20 refugees die in rush for relief supplies in Niger

At least 20 people were killed in Niger on Monday as refugees from neighboring Nigeria rushed to get food, clothes, and money being distributed at a community center. Another 10 people were injured. Some of the victims were children. The stampede erupted when the gates to the facility were opened. The aid was provided by the visiting governor of Nigeria's Borno state. There are almost 250,000 displaced people in the area, according to the United Nations. Many of the refugees have fled attacks by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and other armed militant groups. [BBC News, Reuters]

8.

Bloomberg qualifies for his first debate

Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg on Tuesday qualified to participate in his first Democratic presidential primary debate. With 19 percent support in an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, the business-media billionaire earned a spot in the Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas. Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also qualified. Candidates can qualify by earning 10 percent support in four national polls or winning at least one delegate from the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary. The other billionaire in the race, Tom Steyer, has not met either threshold. [CNBC]

9.

GM retreats from Australia, New Zealand

General Motors is accelerating its push to retreat from unprofitable markets by winding down its operations in Australia and New Zealand, and selling a plant in Thailand. The latest restructuring of the U.S. automaker's global business will cost it $1.1 billion. About 600 jobs will be lost in Australia and New Zealand, and another 1,500 jobs will be affected at the Thai plant. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that he was disappointed but not surprised. "Australian taxpayers put billions into this multinational company," Morrison said. "They let the brand just wither away on their watch." [Reuters]

10.

Sonic the Hedgehog leads the box office with record debut

Paramount's Sonic the Hedgehog led the domestic box office over the long Presidents' Day weekend. Its estimated $70 million in ticket sales over its four-day debut was one of the best showings ever for the holiday, which this year started with Valentine's Day. The better-than-expected start, which included about $57 million from Friday through Sunday, set a record for the best North America debut for a video game adaptation, beating Pokemon Detective Pikachu's 2019 mark of $54.3 million, without adjusting for inflation. Sonic made another $43 million overseas. DC's Birds of Prey fell to No. 2 with a $17 million haul in its second weekend from Friday through Sunday, and $19.9 million for the full long weekend. [The Hollywood Reporter, CNBC]